October 30, 2007

Library as refuge

Two posts really resonated with me today. First from ACRLog, a post by Steven Bell, The Academic Library Is Certainly No Place For Fun

Are there days at your academic library when it appears that a war is going to erupt between the students who just want solitude and quiet and those who want to do…well, whatever they feel like doing? And what they feel like doing just might be socializing (probably loudly), playing cards, using computers to watch a soccer match or anything else that disrupts the work of those who seek peace and quiet. And of course, since the students are totally incapable of policing this themselves and cooperating to create a workable environment for both groups, guess who gets to be the referee to help make sure everyone plays nice. Are you having fun yet? This is by no means a new issue, but with the proliferation of cell phones and multimedia digital entertainment - along with a growing societal trend toward a public lack of sensitivity to and respect for others’ needs for privacy and quiet - the severity the issue has rapidly escalated.

With a line that made me laugh out loud:
But I don’t doubt that some of our aggrieved patrons would like nothing better than to see little old Mr. Librarian pull out a big baseball bat to deal out some corporal punishment to a bunch of chatterbox undergrads.

Ok, so my own Schwarzeneggeresque fantasies are probably a little less extreme (and probably include a hockey stick rather than a baseball bat), but I certainly sympathise. As I've written before, I place a high value on our mission to give students what they can't find anywhere else on campus -- quiet. My library is quite a small space, mostly all on one floor, so it can be a challenge to keep noise levels to a dull roar. And finding the right balance between letting people work together at the computers and keeping it low enough so that noise doesn't overwhelm other parts of the library is tough. But I think that students generally appreciate our efforts and 99% of the ones who we ask to lower their voices are very understanding.

Oddly, just today I had a strange occurance while I was on the desk: 3 cell phone pacers at once, all wandering the open areas of the library, speaking loudly and a bit oblivuously. All were more than happy to wander away from the quieter parts of the library. What is it about cell phones that cause us to pace back and forth while we talk in a louder than normal voice?

The other article is via Lisnews, Are Computers in Libraries on the Wane? My first response is, "Are you kidding? We could put in 5 times as many and still practically have lineups!" but I think that there are a few good points:
“I thought that since students are online so much that they always wanted to be near a computer,” one of the librarians said. “But it turns out that part of the reason they’re coming to the library is to unplug, is to actually have some time where they can concentrate on their work. So we wanted to make sure we had lots of big spaces, where they can study, and can be quiet, and can concentrate.”

The librarians also said students favored big tables, lots of natural light, and quiet study spaces.

Exactly. If someone gave me a few million dollars and the rest of my building, what would I do? First of all, wired and wireless access everywhere, lots of natural light (which we luckily already have). Group study rooms would be a priority. But also more informal, noisy collaborative space around the computer workstation pods and other tables. In other areas I would want to have quieter spaces where the distaction level is low but not zero; this space would have a variety of remixable soft seating and tables. Finally, a certain number of silent study areas where the only sound you should here is the quiet click of keyboards; this space would probably only have carels and bigger, heavier soft seating. Building function space, common areas, reference programs and instructional spaces in such a facility would be fun and challenging. Ah, to dream.

October 29, 2007

Nature as an Example of Web 2.0

As I mentioned in my previous post, Mike Buschman of the IEEE and I presented on Nature as an Example of Web 2.0, about how the Nature Publishing Group is experimenting with Web 2.0 applications. It was a pleasure collaborating with Mike on the presentation, a truly 2.0 experience as we'd never met F2F before starting the project.

Using the Google Docs presentation software was also a worthwhile experience. It's a very good tool for sharing and collaborating on documents, one I would wholeheartedly recommend. No more emailing PowerPoints back and forth and subsequent versioning problems. A couple of issues did arise: first, it's not a easy to print out as PPT so that was a bit of a complication for the meeting organizers; also, it doesn't export to PPT format so you either have to have a live link to show the presentation or export to html format and use a browser which is a little inconvenient.

What we hoped to accomplish with this presentation was to give a quick overview of what one particular publisher is doing in the Web 2.0 space and to provoke some discussion about the possibilities of those tools in our various environments. It was interesting to see how people in those different environments saw these possibilities differently, in ways that I certainly didn't expect but was very happy and interested to hear. I think we were pretty successful; it's an area I find very interesting and worth pursuing so I'm sure I'll be posting more on using 2.0 tools for scholarly publishing and disseminating science.

IEEE Library Advisory Council Meeting, October 24-26, 2007

Well, I'm back from New York City. It was a very stimulating and productive meeting, a great opportunity to meet colleagues from both the IEEE and other libraries and institutions. Rarely do we get an opportunity to discuss and share with librarians from corporate, government and institutional settings. Often, our interests are the same but often they are markedly different. Where issues like Open Access are obvious to us they can be complex in other environments; something that we can understand intellectually but need to be face to face to really understand.

We had two keynotes, one from Tony Breitzman of 1790 Analytics on the value that using scholarly literature can add to technology development and how that is visible in patent citations. The second keynote was by Richard Sweeney of the New Jersey Institute of Technology on Millennial Behaviors and Higher Education. In other words, how kids today really are different from previous generations. A bracing overview with lots to think about.

Other presentations (mostly by us librarians), included: Resource Access and Delivery Best Practices; Open Access in Europe and the HEP communities; IEEE Xplore developments and Rights Management in a Corporate Environment.

Mike Buschman of the IEEE and I presented on Nature as an Example of Web 2.0. More details on that in my next post.

All this to say, it was great and I'm really looking forward to next year. I want to thank the IEEE for extending me this opportunity and to the staff (especially Phyllis!) for being so warm and welcoming.

I did get a chance to go to the Strand for a few purchases as well as see a Broadway show (Jersey Boys). The Rockefeller Center observatory was breathtaking.

Controversy at the American Chemical Society, Part II

Noted without comment, an email from a few days ago:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing you this email in allegiance with the original Insider at the American Chemical Society. The Chronicle of Higher Education confirmed last week that executive bonuses at the American Chemical Society are tied to the financial success of their publishing division. This money may be influencing opposition to Open Access publishing by ACS executives. The executive director pulls in almost $1 million annually.

To prevent Open Access:

  • ACS Editor Rudy Baum has written numerous opposing editorials in Chemical & Engineering News.
  • The Society has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for lobbyists.
  • ACS Publishing Executive, Brian Crawford, helped hire a suspect PR firm which created a covert organization called Partnership for Research Integrity in Science and Medicine (PRISM).

Question: Is ACS being run in the interest of members or to fatten the wallets of its executives? Please reference the following time line with supporting sources.

[1] Sept 2004 - Rudy Baum writes an editorial in C&EN entitled "Socialized Science." Rudy argues, "Open access, in fact, equates with socialized science." Rudy does not mention that bonuses for ACS publishing executives are tied to publishing profits.

[2] June 2006 - Rudy Baum writes "Take A Stand," another C&EN editorial against "socialized science." He argues, "As a member of the ACS Publications Division executive team, I am very familiar with the tremendous effort, expense, and human resources that are poured into producing the finest chemistry journals and databases in the world." As support, Rudy cites the position of the scholarly division of the Assn. of American Publishers (AAP). Rudy does not disclose that the chairman of the AAP's scholarly division is Brian Crawford, a publishing executive at ACS.

[3] July 2006 - As Nature later reports, Several publishing executives with ACS, Wiley and Elsevier meet with PR operative, Eric Dezenhall, to discuss a plan to defeat open access. Dezenhall advises the executives to equate Open Access with a reduction in peer review quality.

[4] August 2006 - ACS publishing executive, Brian Crawford, writes a letter against Open Access to the Los Angeles Times. In the letter, he states, "Publishers will keep working to expand access to research while maintaining the integrity of peer review and copyright protection." Crawford identifies himself the "chair of the executive council of the professional and scholarly publishing division of the Assn. of American Publishers."

[5] January 2007 - Nature reports that several publishing companies (Elsevier, ACS, Wiley) have hired PR operative Eric Dezenhall to fight Open Access. In the past, Dezenhall represented several celebrities, as well as felons convicted in the Enron debacle.

[6] January 2007 - Scientific American reports that ACS has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire lobbying firms to defeat Open Access. ACS' own internal lobbyists are also working against Open Access, but the exact expense cannot be determined from published records.

[7] Summer 2007 - Former ACS journalist, Paul D. Thacker, writes in the SEJournal that Rudy Baum and other ACS executives sought to discredit his reporting after his editor received complaints from ACS President, Bill Carroll. Thacker claims that Carroll chairs the ACS Committee on Executive Compensation which reviews the bonuses of the publishing executives such as Rudy Baum. Rudy Baum does not address the issue of compensation, but Carroll states that his Committee does not review editorial bonuses.

[8] September 2007 - The Assn of American Publishers launches a new group called Partnership for Research Integrity in Science and Medicine (PRISM) coalition, an anti-open-access group. The group claims that Open Access will hurt peer review.

[9] Early October 2007 - ACS sends out a press release stating that several anonymous emails about executive pay and bonuses are filled with "erroneous and misleading claims." The press release notes that compensation for ACS executives is approved by the Committee on Executive Compensation, however, executive compensation is not "related to the Society's position on open access." The press release continues, "Our Society's position is also represented by the Association of American Publishers, a non-profit organization whose membership encompasses the major commercial and non-profit scholarly publishers, including ourselves."

[10] October 22, 2007 - As reported in The Scientist, Rudy Baum declines to state if his compensation is tied to publishing profits. Of an anonymous email claiming the contrary, he says, "When anonymous material comes into the office I throw it out right away."

[11] October 24, 2007 - ACS rebuts the anonymous email in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The Chronicle interviews ACS Executive Director, Madeleine Jacobs, who "did confirm that senior executives and some managers in the publishing division have a 'small portion' of their overall incentive compensation 'based on meeting certain financial targets.' She did not agree that such incentive pay, however small, represented a conflict of interest in the group's opposition to open-access legislation and called such argument 'spurious.'"


  • January 2008 - Rudy Baum announces that he has accepted a fellowship at Columbia Journalism School. He will teach a summer course titled, "Ethics and Conflicts of Interest in Science Reporting."

  • September 2009 - Brian Crawford mysteriously leaves ACS to become president of the Association of American Publishers. Leaving ACS costs him a 20 percent reduction in pay.

  • March 20013 - The Harvard Crimson reports that the Faculty Senate is investigating several large donations made by Madeleine Jacobs to Harvard's Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations. Recently appointed as an adjunct lecturer, Ms. Jacobs tells the Crimson that she donated a "small portion" of her last year's income and few shares of stocks to the Center. She does not agree that these donations, however small, influenced the Center in selecting her as an adjunct lecturer and calls such argument "spurious."

Happy reading!
ACS Insider (we are legion!)


[1] "Socialized Science", by Rudy Baum

[2] "Take a Stand", by Rudy Baum

[3] "PR's Pit Bull Takes on Open Access" Nature, January 2007.

[4] "Expand access, protect research" Letter to Los Angeles Times, Brian Crawford.

[5] "PR's Pit Bull Takes on Open Access" Nature, January 2007.

[6] "Open Access to Science Under Attack: High Profile Flacks" Sci Am., January 2007.

[7] SEJournal, Summer 2007.

[8] PRISM website

[9] Letter posted at Pharyngula Blog

[10] "Unrest in the ACS" The Scientist, October 22, 2007.

[11] "Chemical Society Rebuts Anonymous Accusations" Chron. of Higher Ed, October 23, 2007.

*** For future revelations, please follow the American Chemical Society Wiki:

OK, a couple of comments:

One, this is my last posting of an anonymous email on this subject.

Two, Peter Suber has also posted about this new email.

October 23, 2007

Controversy at the American Chemical Society

OK, I know I'm a little late to this one, but since blogging has been erratic the last couple of weeks I'm probably a little late to everything!

Anyways, I received this email a couple of weeks ago, from someone calling themselves "ACS Insider":


I've been an ACS employee for many, many years, but I've grown concerned with the direction of the organization. I'm sending this email to alert you that ACS has grown increasingly corporate in its structure and focus. Management is much more concerned with getting bonuses and growing their salaries rather than doing what is best for membership. For instance, Madeleine Jacobs is now pulling in almost $1 million in salary and bonuses... That's almost 3X what Alan Leshner makes over at AAAS, and almost double what Drew Gilpin Faust makes to lead Harvard.

I think Madeleine is smart, but I'm not quite sure if she's in the same category as Dr. Faust. She doesn't even have a PhD!

What really concerns me is a move by ACS management to undermine the open-access movement. Rudy Baum has been leading the fight with several humorous editorials -- one in which he referred to open-access in the pages of C&EN as "socialized science." ACS has also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in membership money to hire a company to lobby against open-access.

What troubles me the most is when ACS management decided to hire Dezenhall Resources to fight open-access. Nature got hold of some internal ACS emails written by Brian Crawford that discussed how Dezenhall could help us undermine open-access. Dezenhall later created a group called Partnership for Research Integrity in Science and Medicine (PRISM), which has this silly argument that open-access means "no more peer-review."

If you're wondering why ACS is fighting this, it's because people like Rudy Baum, Brian Crawford and other ACS managers receive bonuses based on how much money the publishing division generates. Hurt the publishing revenue; you hurt their bonuses.

I'm hoping that sending out this email will get people to force ACS executives to become more transparent in how they act and spend membership money. Not to mention their crazy need for fatter salaries.

It's time for some change. If you want to check out the sources for this information, there is a wiki site that has all the articles and documents outlining what I've just written.

You can find it here: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=American_Chemical_Society

Those of us inside ACS know that it's time for things to change. But management won't alter their behavior. The money is just too good.

ACS Insider

These are some pretty serious allegations and they've been really heating up the science blogosphere, with Peter Suber especially posting about it several times (1, 2, 3, 4) and on ScienceBlogs as well (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) and other places. It also seems that the email above was sent to a lot of different faculty and librarians, particularly bloggers.

So, what's my take on this? First of all, I'm not surprised. Unfortunately there are some scholarly societies that operate more like for-profits when it comes to their publishing arms and ACS is certainly one of the most notable for that sort of thing. While it should be shocking that ACS is acting more like Elsevier than Elsevier at times, sadly it isn't.

Secondly, what should we, as librarians do about it? Mostly we need to advocate.

We need to push our vendors towards business models that favour open access, we need to reassure them that we're interested in a sustainable model for scholarly publishing, one in which our patrons (and beyond) can access what they need but that still has room for a wide variety of publishers with a wide variety of business models.

We need to seize all the available venues for our advocacy. Just like me, I'm sure vendors visit you at your library all the time. Take the opportunity to talk to them about what you want to see. In many ways, we're in the driver's seat because we control the money that they want. Just say, "If you want my money, this is what you have to do. Let's work together to build a sustainable system." It's not going to be easy, it's going to take time and there's going to be give and take, setbacks and successes. Talk to your vendors at Advisory Councils, conferences, demos, where ever you get the opportunity.

We need to use our financial clout to influence the vendors/publishers. We need to use our budgets, slowly but surely because we can't all change overnight, to make good choices for ourselves, our patrons and, in the long term, the publishers and vendors.

A fair and sustainable business model for scholarly publishing is just as sustainable for our publishers as it is free and open for scholars. The trick is to find a way to pay for what needs to be paid for. I believe and hope that this include some form of open access for the vast majority of published scholarly output, whether it be in OA journals or in various repositories for articles published in toll access journals. Time frame? I sincerely hope that we'll see real change in the 5-10 year time frame with a real tipping point out at around 8-10 years.

Recently in InsideHigherEd

Some posts on women in science:

  • Women, Science and Interdisciplinary Ways of Working by By Diana Rhoten and Stephanie Pfirman
    Despite the hype and hope for interdisciplinary research, it cannot be considered ethical or even practical to draw women into science using interdisciplinary research as the lure, if simultaneously systems of work, evaluation and promotion are not reformed to reward them for taking up the challenge.

  • Female Faculty and the Sciences by Elizabeth Redden
    Other strategies for the recruitment and retention of female faculty described at Wednesday’s hearing include offering childcare grants for professional conferences, offering flexible tenure timelines for faculty with young children, addressing salary equity issues (the NSF’s Olsen recalled an unsettling moment in her own academic history when, as the co-principal investigator on a research project, she was shocked to learn that a male postdoc assigned to her was making more money than she was), reading letters of recommendation with an attention to possible gender bias, providing extensive postdoctoral fellowship support to attract a broader applicant pool, and broadening faculty searches beyond highly specialized areas that may only have a couple graduates a year.

  • From Summers to Sommers by Andy Guess
    Lest anyone think the academic world has settled into a consensus on the status of women in the sciences during the two years since a very public controversy thrust the issue onto the national stage, Christina Hoff Sommers all but ensured vigorous debate on Monday.

    In picking the lineup for a conference called, appropriately enough, “Women and Science,” the philosophy professor, ethicist and critic of modern feminism managed to highlight just what differences persist among mainstream, respected researchers — and expose complex (and occasionally contentious) debates over nature versus nurture, the role of culture versus biology, the persistence of stereotypes and whether innate differences between the sexes really matter.

October 22, 2007

Thomson & Predicting the Nobels

I'm updating the post from a month or so ago where I talked about the attempts by Thompson Scientific to use their citation databases to predict the Nobel prizes in various categories.

As I mentioned, 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 tried 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, how did they do this year? The Nobel Foundation announced the laureates starting October 8th here.

Below are the ISI predictions; I'll include the winners at the end of each section.

Samuel J. Danishefsky
Dieter Seebach
Barry M. Trost

Winner: Gerhard Ertl


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

Winners: Albert Fert and Peter Grunberg

Physiology or Medicine

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

Winners: Mario R. Capecchi, Sir Martin J. Evans and Oliver Smithies


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

Winners: Leonid Hurwicz, Eric S. Maskin and Roger B. Myerson

Yes, once again Thomson is completely shut out and didn't get any of them correct. On the plus side, they predicted a couple of this year's laureates for last year: Physiology or Medicine and Physics. In my opinion, this is probably worth about half marks or less. After all, they didn't set about predicting who would win the prize "some day" but predicting who would win in a given year. Everyone that they chose is certainly a prominent person in their fields and deserving of recognition. It's just in using their citation messures to predict the prizes on an annual basis that I object to. My main objection, of course, being that citation is only a small part of the story when you're measuring the true impact of a person's career. Not only that, with the explosion of citation databases and citation counting features in publisher databases, the data that Thomson has is only a fraction of what is available. And becoming a smaller fraction each year.

Once again, I sincerely hope that Thomson Scientific stops using the Nobels in a misguided attempt to promote their products.

(To repeat from last time: 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.)

October 18, 2007

On the move -- ASEE St. Lawrence Conference and IEEE Library Advisory Council

  • I'll be at the ASEE St. Lawrence Section Annual Conference tomorrow and Saturday. As is my practice, I plan to blog the conference once it's done, probably next week or the week after. If you're there too, please feel free to stop me and say Hi.

  • The reason I may not get to blogging the ASEE conference for a week or so is that next week (Oct 24-26) I'll be in NYC for the IEEE Library Advisory Council annual meeting. If you have any feedback you'd like me to pass along, feel free to email me. Don't worry, I plan to bring up the PRISM thing and hopefully clarify the IEEE's involvement, which I believe is minimal.

    Any of you NYC readers out there, I may have some time Wednesday afternoon for a coffee or a beer. Let me know at jdupuis at yorku dot ca and maybe we can meet up at The Strand or something. (Hey, with the exchange rate where it is I'm major league stocking up on books!) I'm not sure how much I'll blog about the meeting, but I will be posting the presentation I'll be doing with Mike Buschman of the IEEE.

October 17, 2007

IJDL and DLib on eScience

From the International Journal on Digital Libraries, v7i1-2 Oct 2007 (all the articles look interesting, these are just the first five):

From Dlib v13i9-10 Sept/Oct 2007 (open access journal; again, this is just a sampling of the articles):

October 14, 2007

Cool Tools for Scholars -- Help Wanted

I've somehow been recruited (thanks, Stacy!) to give a brownbag presentation session in a few weeks with the title, "Cool Tools for Scholars." Not having actually chosen the topic, I feel that I can range pretty far and wide from what might be expected and zoom into the stratosphere on this one. Of course, I'm not limiting myself to tools for scientists but for all scholars.

So far, my idea is to roughly follow the research process and highlight a couple of tools at each stage that scholars might find interesting or useful but that many librarians or scholars might not have heard of or used.

I'm thinking of an outline more or less like this:

  • Invisible College

    • Social Networks: LinkedIn, Facebook, Nature Network

  • Literature Search/Environment Scan

    • Social Bookmarking: Del.icio.us, Connotea
    • Recommendation Systems: Digg
    • Citation Management: Zotero, CiteULike
    • Blog Aggregators & Tools: ScienceBlogs, AcademicBlogs, Google Blog Search, Technorati, Scintilla, Post Genomic

  • Executing the Research

    • Wikis (ie. for labs or keep track of any kind of notes)

  • Writing up the Work

    • Document Preparation: Google Docs, Zoho
    • Publication: Lulu, CreateSpace

  • Disseminating the Results

    • Presentations: Google Docs, Zoho & SlideShare
    • Papers: Institutional and Disciplinary Repositories (ie. exploring what they are and finding applicable ones)
    • Publicity: Project/Lab/Research Group blogs and wikis

Now, I know that's a lot to cover in 90 minutes, especially since I hope to have a really interactive session with a lot of input and ideas from the audience, so I'll probably only end up covering one tool per category. What I was hoping to get from you, my faithful audience, was some feedback on what might strike you as the most important things to cover in such a presentation. In particular, are there any great tools out there that I've not included on my list, especially ones aimed at non-scientists?

As usual, just drop a comment here or on Meebo or email me at jdupuis at yorku dot ca.

October 13, 2007

Biblioblogosphere Survey

Meredith Farkas of Information Wants to Be Free has finished posting the complete set of results for the 2007 edition of her Survey of the Biblioblogosphere. The results are extremely interesting although there were no great surprises or revelations for me.

The post linking to all the various results is here. The survey covers blogger demographics, blog demographics, attitudes & behaviors and a series of breakdowns of the results with various filters. The filtered results are particularly interesting as you can see the various questions broken down by age, gender, type of library and other demographic details.

As well, Farkas kindly makes available the complete survey details in Google Docs spreadsheet format. I tried loading it up and it looks interesting.

October 12, 2007

Friday Fun: War of the Worlds Edition

The War of the Worlds is one of my favourite novels and the old George Pal film one of my favourite cheesy old sf films. I mostly liked the Spielberg version and have very fond memories of the late 1980s TV series. I've listened to the Welles radio broadcast a few times and enjoyed the recent comic adaptation. I even vaguely remember reading a sequel Edison's Conquest of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss as an extra feature in the old Perry Rhodan books in the 1970s.

So, when I tell you that I really love the The War of the Worlds: Design, Graphical Elements page, it means that if you love TWotW (or even if you love great sf art), you should check it out too. It's a cornucopia of old book covers and interior illustrations and is obviously a work of love.

October 11, 2007

IEEE Annals of the History of Computing

As usual, some interesting stuff from a special issue on PC Software: Spreadsheets for Everyone, Jul-Sept 2007:

I forgot to post earlier on the Jan-March 2007 issue which has a great article by my York CS colleague Zbigniew Stachniak (who just dropped into my office a few minutes ago, jogging my memory about the article):

October 10, 2007

SocialRank blog aggregators

Referrer logs are an excellent source of information. Not only do they tell me who's talking about me and what's popular or useful from what I've written, they also tell can give me a heads up on new devopements in the blogosphere. A case in point is the dribble of links I've gotten over the last couple of weeks from a new site called The Library Shelf:

Are you a librarian? Each day, The Library Shelf identifies the top 15 librarian stories and blogs of the day.

We do this by monitoring the buzz of the Librarian blog community. So YOU decide what's important.

We use SocialRank software to monitor each of the best librarian sites and determine today's hottest articles and bloggers in the field.

This is done by analyzing how sites and users link, connect, and discuss each other's content. Add a touch of math and what we have is a powerful filter into the hottest stories of the day.

Now you can find better librarian stories, learn more, and get updated... much faster and easier than before

It seems like a pretty interesting service, one that SociaRank has replicated in a bunch of other blogging communities, mostly business, hobby, lifestyle or technology focused. Each day they highlight the top posts and the blogs that are the fastest growing, attention-wise. So far I've found The Library Shelf and a few other of the communities fairly interesting and useful in helping me keep up.

Here are some of the pros and cons:
  • Pro: It does increase my personal serendipity factor by highlighting posts from blogs that I don't follow
  • Pro: Related to the above, the threshold for "important post" seems pretty low right now so it is possible for it to surface stuff from beyond the most popular blogs
  • Pro: It's another measure of ranking/popularity

  • Con: It's not clear exactly what blogs they cover and right now it seems to be a fairly small number
  • Con: Using comments and links as the main measure of importance is a bit dubious without any human relevance checking.
  • Con: It doesn't cycle that quickly as many posts seem to linger on the list for days and days
  • Con: It's another measure of ranking/popularity

Some of the other communities I'll be following:

Check out these two posts for more communities on feminism, atheism, Microsoft, Oracle, Ruby on rails, toys, pop culture, parenting, Java, Apple, Flash, cats, Python, cars, Second Life and more.

October 6, 2007

Woohoo! Librarian wins Ig Nobel!

It had to happen. The worth of our profession has finally been acknowledged by the most prestigious of organizations, the Ig Nobel committee!

LITERATURE: Glenda Browne of Blaxland, Blue Mountains, Australia, for her study of the word "the" -- and of the many ways it causes problems for anyone who tries to put things into alphabetical order.

REFERENCE: "The Definite Article: Acknowledging 'The' in Index Entries," Glenda Browne, The Indexer, vol. 22, no. 3 April 2001, pp. 119-22.


From her bio in the article, we note, "Glenda Browne has trained as a biotechnologies and a librarian. She has indexed books, journals, websites, database and online help for 11 years."

Some of my favourite other laureates this year include:
BIOLOGY: Prof. Dr. Johanna E.M.H. van Bronswijk of Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands, for doing a census of all the mites, insects, spiders, pseudoscorpions, crustaceans, bacteria, algae, ferns and fungi with whom we share our beds each night.

"Huis, Bed en Beestjes" [House, Bed and Bugs], J.E.M.H. van Bronswijk, Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde, vol. 116, no. 20, May 13, 1972, pp. 825-31.
"Het Stof, de Mijten en het Bed" [Dust, Mites and Bedding]. J.E.M.H. van Bronswijk Vakblad voor Biologen, vol. 53, no. 2, 1973, pp. 22-5.
"Autotrophic Organisms in Mattress Dust in the Netherlands," B. van de Lustgraaf, J.H.H.M. Klerkx, J.E.M.H. van Bronswijk, Acta Botanica Neerlandica, vol. 27, no. 2, 1978, pp 125-8.
"A Bed Ecosystem," J.E.M.H. van Bronswijk, Lecture Abstracts -- 1st Benelux Congress of Zoology, Leuven, November 4-5, 1994, p. 36.

WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Dr. Johanna E.M.H. van Bronswijk

CHEMISTRY: Mayu Yamamoto of the International Medical Center of Japan, for developing a way to extract vanillin -- vanilla fragrance and flavoring -- from cow dung.

REFERENCE: "Novel Production Method for Plant Polyphenol from Livestock Excrement Using Subcritical Water Reaction," Mayu Yamamoto, International Medical Center of Japan.


PRESS NOTE: Toscanini's Ice Cream, the finest ice cream shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, created a new ice cream flavor in honor of Mayu Yamamoto, and introduced it at the Ig Nobel ceremony. The flavor is called "Yum-a-Moto Vanilla Twist."

October 5, 2007

Friday Fun: A couple of notes from the world of chess

October 3, 2007

Interview with Richard Akerman, Technology Architect at CISTI

Welcome to the latest installment in my occasional series of interviews with people in the scitech world. This time around the subject is Richard Akerman, Technology Architect at the Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (CISTI). While I've never met Richard in person, I've long followed the provocative and insightful commentary on his blog, Science Library Pad. Provocative and insightful are certainly words I would use to describe his responses in this interview. Enjoy!

Q0. Richard, please tell us a little about your background and career path to this point and how you ended up at CISTI.

I didn't start out with any particular plan, at university in the late 80s I found I had an aptitude for computer science, and science in general. From there I spent a while building expertise in computer networking and system administration. I worked for six years at a company called AMIRIX Systems, initially as a network admin, and later as a software designer. From there I ended up at CISTI in 2002, again initially as a network admin, and now as a technology architect.

If I look at the threads that run through, the main aspects are working with and understanding computers and networks at a very technical level, and the analytical aspects that computer programming, network troubleshooting, and science all share. What I guess isn't obvious is that software engineering and technology architecture are also highly social activities, that require a high degree of communication skills to gather information and requirements from a wide variety of people, translate those into technical details, and then explain the technical details in an understandable way back to a variety of audiences.

There is another thread which is that from the time of High School on I have been required to do presentations for school or for work, and I've always been comfortable and enjoyed doing so.

Q1. Why did you start blogging and what keeps you going?

For my personal blog, I started in 2001 when there weren't really any good bookmarking management tools. From the early days of the MOSAIC browser, when you had to hand-edit the MOSAIC.INI file to arrange bookmarks, I have always had an interest in being able to re-locate useful information I've found on the net. (Perhaps there is some librarian in me after all.) In 2001 del.icio.us unfortunately hadn't been invented yet, but Google and other search engines had, so the easiest way for me to maintain bookmarks with a rich enough set of metadata that was meaningful to me was to blog them.

When I went to my first library technology conference, Internet Librarian in 2004, I started taking conference notes (mostly since I have a terrible memory when it comes to things people have said). But I shortly decided it didn't make much sense to have my work-related notes mixed in with pictures of my cat, so I launched Science Library Pad (SLP) as a more "professional" location for that sort of information.

And somehow I managed to get noticed in the library blogosphere.

I think in a way I was just lucky to hit a moment when library conferences were just starting to get connected out to the web, it would be very different if I started now, when library conference blogging and wikis are common.

From there I started to use SLP as a venue for work-related bookmarks or items of interest, and also to work out some of my thinking about libraries and technology. Working in a public sector science library was a very different experience both in terms of technology and culture from my previous employment at a very technical private sector firm, and I used the blog to sort out some of my thoughts about both the pure computer systems aspect of libraries, as well as my perceptions of how librarians thought about those systems.

From those not particularly auspicious beginnings, I have found my blog has led to incredible and entirely unexpected connections and opportunities.

Q2. Tell us a little about CISTI and it's current and future roles in the library and scientific worlds? If we can imagine a world where everything is open access, what's the role for an institution like CISTI?

CISTI is Canada's national science library and provides science publishing services as well, both of these roles are derived from sections of the National Research Council (NRC) Act, CISTI is an institute of the NRC. We're in a challenging position as we're not an academic library in the university sense - we do serve a campus, but it's a campus of research institutes. Our publishing role is carried out through the peer-reviewed journals of the NRC Research Press. Our library role includes services by reference librarians to every NRC institute, as well as document delivery.

In my personal opinion, three forces have radically reshaped the scientific information provision landscape: the Internet, plus digital content, plus "good enough" search capabilities. I think all academic libraries are reeling from the implications of content directly available from publisher sites to students and researchers. I don't have the answers to what the future holds, but I think it's clear that the library role has to involve an understanding of network computing, and that academic libraries have to examine issues related to scientific data and digital preservation.

As well, there has to be a rethinking of reference services to ensure that librarians are positioned to provide a large degree of added analysis - the simple queries are gone, what's left is much more intensive partnerships and collaborations between librarians and their patrons to take the best advantage of their abilities.

On the publishing side, again as a personal opinion, I think the business models will sort themselves out. The scientific community sees substantial value in peer review and readable papers, and both of those cost money. I think we will see "papers" become much richer online objects, and alternative types of publishing (e.g. video), but the fundamentals of the system remain.

Q3. SciFoo must have been cool beyond belief. What are some highlights and insights you could share with the scitech library community? What were people's reactions when they found out that you work at a library?

SciFoo was a very interesting event. For those who haven't heard of it, it's an invitation-only scientific "unconference" organised by Nature Publishing and O'Reilly, and hosted by Google. The schedule is self-organised at the conference itself, there is no programme published or arranged in advance. The method in their madness is to try to maximise the amount of discussion between participants, to make it a much more interactive event.

So there were a lot of very smart people, of varying degrees of famousness, with lots of interesting ideas. Interesting, but not necessarily convergent ideas. There were a lot of different opinions, perceptions and solutions for the scholarly communications system.

And unfortunately, I have to say for the most case people indicated they didn't seem to see their libraries stepping up to participate in the conversation. They welcomed such participation, they just didn't see it.

Q4. Can academic/research libraries change fast enough to stay relevant? Similarly, can libraries rush to transform themselves into the wrong things, and just a different path to irrelevance?

I think there was a big, big intermediation role that libraries just have to let go of. It isn't coming back. And there's also a big, big technology investment, in catalogues and ILS systems that worked in ways that librarians understoood, that were basically library operations, turned into computer programs and databases. As the library operations radically transform, there is a huge challenge in transforming the supporting technology systems.

For public libraries, I think the library as both place and service has an enduring role. For academic libraries, I think the library as place role continues, but the library service role is going to be a big challenge. For libraries whose role was almost entirely in providing access to information, such as CISTI, the challenge is tremendous when digital files over the Internet, obtained directly by researchers, becomes an easier pathway for access.

I don't think libraries should worry about transforming too quickly. I do think however it is important to separate technological change from organisational change. Libraries made that mistake before. An entire organisation built around serving up Web 2.0 pages is going to be just as brittle as the one that is breaking because it is built around serving up WebOPAC pages. "You are not the technology you use." To some extent, don't worry about the technology, it's not the important part. We have computers and networks that are fast enough that we no longer need to be constrained by technology. Decided what you want to do FIRST, and then implement flexible technology solutions SECOND.

I see far too often a tendency for people to say "we need federated search solution XYZ", when they really should be saying "I think we could serve our patrons better by making it easier for them to find relevant materials, how can we solve that problem?" and then putting in place the organisational structures, processes, and technology to meet your needs.

Technology should never be the driver. As long as libraries remember that, I don't think they will fall into a "change trap".

Q5. What's it like to be a techie working with a bunch of librarians? Don't worry, they won't read this, so you can be honest.

We come from very different backgrounds in terms of training, approach to problem solving, and analogies that we use to understand the world. It is a huge challenge. People from a techical background think of computers, web sites, networking and information quite differently from librarians. But I think the surprising aspect may be that often people with a technical background are less concerned about the details of the particular technology of the moment, than with the problems to be solved.

I think the best hope for a common meeting ground is mutual respect. In a pre-searchable-digital-Internet world, librarians were the Masters of All Information. They have to cede many of the technical aspects of that to the people who are trained in technology. That's hard to do, it's just human nature. I would say that's the biggest single source of friction, on one side of the table you have technical people who have years and years of training in their fields, basically pleading to have their expertise recognized by the librarians. On the flip side, the technology people have to appreciate that librarians draw upon a rich tradition of information management and document preservation, and that the solution to everything isn't necessarily to hand all information over to Google and close up shop.

Q6. And the other side of the coin: What kind of insights on the way science is done, science is published and the way to serve a science community do you think you, as a technology person, have brought to a library organization. (ie. Have you been a disruptive influence...evolutionary or revolutionary?)

Although I do have a background being a physics and computer science grad student, I don't think that experience brought insights into the organisation in any specific way. Academic librarians have a good general sense for the way science is conducted, particularly as many of them have degrees in the sciences themselves.

I think the technology background, the analytical approach to troubleshooting and problemsolving, the understanding of what is possible with networking and computers, these are much more disruptive, revolutionary elements for the library.

Q7. You post a lot on e-science. How do you thing computing will affect the way science is practised (and communicated) in the future?

I think computing has already started to transform some of the sciences, and this trend will only continue and grow over the next decades. Get used to seeing -informatics attached to all scientific areas. Bio-informatics is already a huge area, but chemo-informatics and others are following quickly behind.

It is inevitable that much of scientific communication will move into one continuous workflow, a scientific discussion, with links, data, computation, and visualisation all seamless elements. Just as today we don't give a second thought to moving between a phone call, an email, an IM window and a browser window, the future of science will be that computers and networking will be used whenever appropriate, without a second thought. Scientific discussions will move naturally from virtual environments, to a written page, to an interactive graph, depending on the message, the audience, and the research.

It is a huge challenge for libraries to think about how in the world we ever preserve an understandable scientific record for the future in this kind of dynamic, "participative science web" environment.

Q8. Peer review and other scholarly publishing issues are also among your favourites: Can you envision a day when journals as we know them no longer exist? What do you think will replace them? The recent experiments in alternate forms of peer review: no big deal or long-awaited revolution?

I think in the short term, journals become much more semantically-rich online documents, with linkages out to data and analysis tools, as well as to other articles and relevant content. In the long term, they turn into the sort of continuous scientific discussion I described above.

One of the big things I heard at SciFoo was time-to-publication. I think that is going to drive radically improved ways to do timely peer review. But I don't think the underlying concept of peer review is going away. It is imperfect, but better than anything else anyone has been able to come up with.

Q9. What are your current obsessions and preoccupations? What do you think the Next Big Thing will be?

Impact factor, specifically evaluation of scientists based on impact factor, is driving people up the wall. This was a big theme both at the ICSTI conference and at SciFoo. I think the feeling in the community against the misuse of impact factor is actually much stronger than other issues that may get more press, for example, I think fixing the IF issue is of more interest to the broad science community than sorting out Open Access.

I think we are going to see a lot more screeds against impact factor, and a lot more experiments in terms of both technological approaches (new computable metrics) as well as processes.

I think in order to imagine the Next Big Thing, the easiest approach is to just imagine the Current Big Expensive Unattainable Things become small, cheap, and ubiquitous. So e-Science, the stuff of multi-million-dollar computing and networking, is going to become me-Science, with vast computer power and storage available to everyone, as well as the opportunity for huge "citizen science" networks gathering data and contributing valuable insights.

Things like the Great World Wide Star Count will be a common part of the school and citizen experience in the future. Basically anyone with an interest in science will have opportunities to contribute and participate throughout their lives.

One of my particular interests is what it means to have ubiquitous access to geographic information. What does it mean if everyone has Google Earth in their cellphone? And they can share their position with anyone in the world? Considering that Nokia just bought mapmaker Navteq, this direction seems inevitable.

So I think the future in the near term is something about more e-science, and more participative web. I've actually got an upcoming blog post on the trends that I see, based on an internal presentation I did at CISTI recently. I'm also excited to have been invited to blog the OECD Participative Web Forum this Wednesday, October 3, 2007.

Which I guess in a way shows the limits of my foresight, as I never imagined that when I was sitting in Ottawa making a web storage place for some conference notes that it would lead me to be contacted by an international organisation based in Paris.

October 2, 2007

The CS/IT job market

A few somewhat divergent recent views, one from the US and one from the UK with the Canadian situation at the end.

The USACM Technology Policy Weblog has a very sunny and optimitic post IT Job Prospects and Salaries on the Rise:

Continued declines in interest and enrollment in computer science has troubled the computing community for the past few years. After the dot-com bubble burst, employment fell and computer science majors rationally followed suit. However, in the past couple of years this trend has continued to puzzle the field’s leaders who hear widespread but anecdotal stories of graduates receiving multiple job offers and employers noting trouble finding talent for open positions. New data has recently been published that provide more than mere anecdote for the strong job prospects in information technology (IT).


It is clear that the IT industry has recovered from the dot-com bust. But enrollment and interest in computer science seems to have moved beyond a cyclical downturn. As more stories and data about the job market come out the question is: When will we start seeing undergraduate enrollment increase, or is there some other consideration besides employment driving this trend?

On the other hand, the situation in the UK seems a bit different as Silicon.com reports Skills Survey 2007: Industry falling out of love with IT grads. The main problem seems to be the skill and quality of grads.
The quality of computer science graduates is falling, according to results from the exclusive silicon.com 2007 Skills Survey.

Just a quarter of survey respondents agree or strongly agree with the statement 'computer science courses turn out high-quality IT graduates' - a drop of 10 percentage points on 2006's result, and a further drop on the year before, when 37 per cent of survey-takers agreed or strongly agreed grads were high calibre.


But the UK's IT industry has its own particular pressures - from a general falling off of numbers of students enrolling on tech courses, to a shifting playing field of priorities. IT systems are increasingly important to almost every aspect of a business, which means greater complexity in administering, maintaining and scaling such systems. This does not sit easily with an academic teaching philosophy designed to cover 'fundamentals'.

This is the view of another former CS student - Rob Chapman, CEO of IT training company Firebrand Training (formerly The Training Camp). Chapman believes "complexity" in today's IT world and the demand for "niche skills" means it's far harder for universities to prepare students for the workplace.

And how about Canada? Here's a September 2007 report on the market across the country. I'll quote a bit on from the section the Toronto area:
Through the month of August in the GTA, there were strong indications that many projects were on the move from planning and analysis stages into the next level of the development lifecycle. There also seemed to be a change in focus for many organizations as they moved from hiring functional roles, to more technically driven roles such as Technical Architects and Developers. There were high levels of activity from Fortune 500 organizations. From the financial sector, some of the leading banks offered many high-level contracts for Business Analysts and Senior Level Developers. With a lot of projects moving from planning to development, it is an anticipated that the financial sector will be increasing development efforts and QA positions. Many of the projects involve Java, C/C++, .NET, Siebel and Mainframe technologies.

October 1, 2007

Woohoo! I'm number between 21 and 51!

Meredith Farkas has published the results of her survey of her readership's favourite blogs. Check out the list; there are certainly some surprises, most notably that the Annoyed Librarian came in as #1.

CoaSL finished in the 3-6 Votes aggregate, a result with pleases me quite a bit. When the survey was announced, I figured I would get between 0 - 5 votes so I'm quite happy to poll in the upper part of that range. I would like to thank those of you out there that voted for me; I appreciate your support and will continue to blog about things that interest me and, I hope, you as well.

What does the survey mean? First of all, the number of people who voted is quite small, only 218. For the top 10 or so, it probably fairly represents people's true preferences. Beyond that the numbers of votes per blog is quite small so the results are vulnerable to the vagaries of readerships, linking and the way the survey was publicized and are therefore probably much less indicative of anything in particular.


  • The fact that the Annoyed Librarian finished a convincing 1st probably means that the more deadly serious, self-important bloggers out there could probably lighten up a bit. The Librarians Guide to Etiquette also had a strong showing.

  • Such a small sample probably favours blogs that linked to Farkas's original survey post. After all, if you were just reading a particular blog, you must be somewhat more likely to vote for it than some other blog, if only because it will be at the top of your mind. (Note: I did link to the survey with a somewhat self-mocking post.)

  • Posting about tech stuff a lot certainly doesn't hurt.

  • It's possible to make a significant impact in quite a short time. The Academic Librarian is a very new blog and it showed quite respectably.

  • Everyone will say that the survey is meaningless or not an important measure of a blog's importance or impact but everyone who did better than they expected will be pleased and everyone that did worse will be disappointed. It's an honour just to be nominated.

  • There's no such thing as bad publicity. The OEDb list has so far sent around 300 visitors my way; weeks after the list was published I'm still getting one or two hits most days. If something like this lets us B/C/D list blogs find a new audience, expand our communities a bit, then that's a good thing.

  • The fact that only 218 people bothered to vote probably tells us something as well. Presumably Farkas has a far larger readership than that; as well the non-overlapping readerships of the people that linked to the survey is probably also quite large. It seems that most people didn't feel the need to vote. Too reminiscent of high school, perhaps? (I voted although, frankly, I can no longer even remember who I voted for.)

  • The exercise is probably most useful as a way to encourage people to check out blogs they've never read before. I know I certainly will and I welcome those that are visiting here for the first time.