May 31, 2008

Are you a productive reader?

Nice post from Lifehack by Dustin Wax that really encompasses my approach when I read the books I review here. I try to engage and debate and discuss with the books, try and understand what the author is trying to get across. I want to see the strengths but also to evaluate the weaknesses and flaws. Especially since I've been reading a lot of business/technology strategy and trendwatching books -- books that need to be put into perspective and context.

I'll give the bare bones of the different suggestions that Wax makes for reading productively, filling in a couple of details too:

  • Use an index card as your bookmark.
  • Have expectations.
  • Keep a reading journal.
  • Talk about it.
  • Teach it.
  • Pay attention to structure.
  • Google it.
  • Take a moment. People want to read fast, to get it done. That’s why speedreading courses are so popular, despite the fact that you almost never come across anyone who can successfully speedread. The reality is, reading takes time, and learning takes even more. If you only have 20 minutes to read, read for 15 and spend 5 minutes thinking on what you’ve read. If you’re not pressed for time, take long breaks between chapters, even between sections, to reflect.
  • Interrogate. It’s a cliche, but not everything is true just because it was in a book. While developing a Stephen Colbert-like distrust of books is probably overkill, it’s a rather good idea to ask from time to time, “How does the author know this?” and even “Does what s/he’s saying really mean this?”
  • Make a list.
  • Switch it up.
  • Accept defeat.

via LISNews.

May 30, 2008

Friday Fun: He's dead, Jim!

Yes, I'm an old school Star Trek fan. So shoot me.

If you are too (or even if you just appreciate cheese), run on over to SF Signal and catch the hilarious YouTube video of Bones letting Kirk know that one of the red-shirted guys has kicked the bucket.

Not to mention, this compilation video of McCoy giving his famous "I'm a doctor, not a..." lines.

They just don't make'em like they used to...

May 28, 2008

Shirky, Clay. Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations. New York: Penguin Press, 2008. 327pp.

One of the main reasons I wanted to actually write the review of Wikinomics even if it had been quite a while since I'd finished reading it was so I could contrast it with Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody.

I would bet anything that Clay Shirky read Wikinominics and thought to himself, "Hey, there's some pretty interesting ideas in this book, but it's a bit over-hyped and repetitive. I bet anything I could basically write the same book, but better if I just see my main audience as more than just the business crowd. If I see my audience as everybody."

And guess what? He would have been right. Here Comes Everybody is a great book. Potentially a classic. This could be the book that explains to the masses what's truly powerful about web 2.0, social software and peer production. It's clear, concise, to the point, not unnecessarily repetitive and most of all, a realistic look at the strength (and even some weaknesses) of the web 2.0 paradigm. It's aimed at anyone interested in how that set of software tools and mindsets are changing big and small things about society -- about sharing, collaboration and cooperation. In other words, it's a great book for librarians, scientists and everyone in between.

The central idea of the book is that two (or ten or a million) heads are better than one. If a problem needs to be solved, if a social need needs filling, if art, culture and science are in need of being created and communicated, the best way to do those things is to share the production of that content or idea or service among those that are interested and have a stake in it's success.

Some recap: The book gets us started with some of the central stories of the book: how this nerdy guys goes about using social tools to get his girlfriend's cell phone back. It's an interesting story about cooperation to get a job done but there is also some exploration of the potential of these tools to harm people and to violate their privacy. We see people using social tools to battle cartel-like airlines and the Catholic Church among others and for stay-at-home moms (and other groups) to connect with others with the same needs and interests in fractured communities.

An interesting thing is that Shirky does see the potential for these all-encompassing social tools to replace traditional, local communities in ways that aren't always positive. In other words, we have to remember our connection to our local communities.

If the cost of creating communities is next to nothing, so is the cost of failure in the web 2.0 world. Once of the great strengths of these new social tools is that you can just try stuff without huge outlays of time and money. It's almost Darwinian how, for example, many different online communities get started but only those that really fill a need end up survival.

Like I said, this is a great book. Not a perfect book, of course. Sometimes I thought he tried too hard to make the case that everything newnewnew is goodgoodgood. He often seems like he wants to acknowledge that some of the "old ways" are worth keeping or have some value but then backs away. The book ends on a note that implies that experience has nothing to teach youth -- only that youth will trample and destroy all old fogey ways. It's an interesting point given that it wasn't a young person that wrote this book. It's hard to imagine that a 20-year-old would have the experience and maturity to write such a generally fine and balanced book, largely free of hype and overstatement. But maybe I'm too old to see that -- but then Shirky and I are about the same age.

More on York's role in the Mars Phoenix Mission

Some more good media coverage of the York angle on the Mars Phoenix Mission:

BTW, check out the Martian weather here.

The weather on Mars is clear and very cold

The Canadian team is receiving daily weather reports from Phoenix’s Canadian-built meteorological station for the duration of the 90-day mission. Phoenix, a joint project of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories and the University of Arizona, landed on Mars on May 25, at 7:38pm EDT. The weather station was activated within the first hour after landing.

"Measurements are now being recorded continuously, and will expand to include humidity and visibility," says Jim Whiteway, professor of space engineering at York and the principal investigator for the Canadian team.

York profs watch from Arizona as Mars probe lands safely (Includes mentions of other media reports)
York alumnus Steve MacLean (BSc '77, PhD '83), chief astronaut for the Canadian Space Agency, said Canada got involved in the project because of its expertise operating in a frigid northern environment, wrote The Canadian Press May 25. “This is the first time that we have an instrument that we sponsored as a nation” on such a space mission, he said. “All the measurements that we did in the North over the last 15 years contribute to us being a major player on this mission.”

The weather station Canada built for the mission is able to provide regular readings of the temperature on Mars, atmospheric pressure, cloud height, humidity and wind speed.

The lidar system comes from Alan Carswell, York professor emeritus, who ran a laboratory and then spun off a company called Optech to develop a larger role for Canada in the space program. MacLean says Carswell has emerged as a central figure in the Mars mission and is at the Phoenix mission control centre overseeing the operation.

Canadians feel loss of Mars mission scientist
Clinking glasses as they celebrated the triumphant touchdown on Mars of the Phoenix lander Sunday evening, York University professor Jim Whiteway and his team missed the one person who should have been there.

Diane Michelangeli was the lead researcher behind the innovative Canadian-built meteorological station on the Phoenix, before she died of cancer last year – less than a month after the station was launched. Team members still feel the loss.

"We were thinking of Diane after the landing," said Whiteway yesterday from the University of Arizona, where scientists had gathered to watch the lander touchdown with "surreal" accuracy. "We're missing Diane dearly."

May 27, 2008

Books I'd like to read

Here's two books I'd love to see duke it out in a cage match. One seems to take an essentially positive view of the effects of the new multimedia landscape on the current generations and the other...doesn't.

First, the optimists.

Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives by John Palfrey, Urs Gasser

The most enduring change wrought by the digital revolution is neither the new business models nor the new search algorithms, but rather the massive generation gap between those who were born digital and those who were not. The first generation of "digital natives"--children who were born into and raised in the digital world--is now coming of age, and soon our world will be reshaped in their image. Our economy, our cultural life, even the shape of our family life will be forever transformed.

But who are these digital natives? How are they different from older generations, and what is the world they're creating going to look like? In Born Digital, leading Internet and technology experts John Palfrey and Urs Gasser offer a sociological portrait of this exotic tribe of young people who can seem, even to those merely a generation older, both extraordinarily sophisticated and strangely narrow.

Based on original research and advancing new theories, Born Digital explores a broad range of issues, from the highly philosophical to the purely practical: What does identity mean for young people who have dozens of online profiles and avatars? Should we worry about privacy issues? Or is privacy even a relevant value for digital natives? How does the concept of safety translate into an increasingly virtual world? Is "stranger-danger" a real problem, or a red herring?

And now, the pessimist.

The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30) by Mark Bauerlein
Can a nation continue to enjoy political and economic predominance if its citizens refuse to grow up?

For decades, concern has been brewing about the dumbed-down popular culture available to young people and the impact it has on their futures. At the dawn of the digital age, many believed they saw a hopeful answer: The Internet, e-mail, blogs, and interactive and hyper-realistic video games promised to yield a generation of sharper, more aware, and intellectually sophisticated children. The terms “information superhighway” and “knowledge economy” entered the lexicon, and we assumed that teens would use their knowledge and understanding of technology to set themselves apart as the vanguards of this new digital era.

That was the promise. But the enlightenment didn’t happen. The technology that was supposed to make young adults more astute, diversify their tastes, and improve their verbal skills has had the opposite effect. According to recent reports, most young people in the United States do not read literature, visit museums, or vote. They cannot explain basic scientific methods, recount basic American history, name their local political representatives, or locate Iraq or Israel on a map. The Dumbest Generation is a startling examination of the intellectual life of young adults and a timely warning of its consequences for American culture and democracy.

In fact, I think the books may be a bit closer than at first glance. Afterall, the summary for the first does have an interesting quote, refering to this "exotic tribe of young people who can seem ... both extraordinarily sophisticated and strangely narrow." And I think that's more or less what the second book is getting at -- the strangely narrow part. Now don't get me wrong. Old fogies have always complained about the youth of the day being lazy, dumb, ignorant, disrespectful and lacking in intestinal fortitude. And it's always been true, to a certain extent. When we get old ourselves, we forget how we really were when we were young and how we thought that our elders were clueless and irrelevant. Pretending these generational disconnects are new is wrong, as is underestimating the uniqueness of the one were currently experiencing.

I think that these two books, taken together, probably make up one very important book. After all, the students that fill our libraries everyday are these millennials and we have to deal with them in all their extraordinary sophistication and strange narrowness.

(For a deliciously mean take on the narrowness part, check this out.)

May 26, 2008

York Goes to Mars!

It was very exciting last night catching the landing of the Mars Phoenix Mission on TV -- unfortunately I only caught the last half of the show.

Of course, the mission's meteorological station is a significant Canadian contribution -- and a huge part of that is York scientists from the Earth & Space Science & Engineering department.

Great coverage in the Globe and Mail today as well as all over the Internet.

Some nice coverage today in York's online newsletter, Y-File:

Scientists from York University led the design and construction of the meteorological equipment, in collaboration with the University of Alberta, Dalhousie University, the University of Aarhus in Denmark, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, and the Canadian firms of MDA Space Missions and Optech Inc., with $37 million in funding from the Canadian Space Agency.

The meteorological station consists of temperature, wind and pressure sensors, as well as a laser based-light-detecting-and-ranging (lidar) system. The lidar will shoot pulses of laser light into the Martian sky, precisely measuring components of the atmosphere, such as dust, ground fog and clouds, from the surface up to a range of 20 km.

York researchers will receive a daily Martian weather report for the duration of the mission – approximately 92 days, or 90 Martian sols.

"We’re very excited to be deploying Canadian technology on Mars for the first time," says Jim Whiteway, professor of space engineering at York and the principal investigator for the Canadian team. “Our instrumentation will observe clouds and dust and this will provide new insight into the climate of Mars and the planet’s potential for supporting life.”

The also very nicely profile the York members of the team:
Jim Whiteway, professor of space engineering and Canada Research Chair in Space & Engineering & Atmospheric Science. Whiteway is a noted expert in the use of lidar technology to study cloud processes. He is the team’s principal investigator and led the design, testing and implementation of the lidar system.

Allan Carswell, professor emeritus, Department of Physics & Astronomy, Faculty of Science & Engineering. Carswell is one of Canada’s pre-eminent space scientists and an internationally-recognized leader in the field of lidar systems. In 1974, he founded Optech Inc., to develop commercial systems based on lidar technology. The lidar technology pioneered by Carswell will measure dust, clouds and fog in the Martian atmosphere.

Peter Taylor, professor of atmospheric science and applied mathematics, Department of Earth & Space Science & Engineering, Faculty of Science & Engineering. Taylor studies wind and blowing snow in the Canadian Arctic, making him an ideal scientist for research into the Martian sub-polar climate. He and his team completed wind-tunnel testing of the temperature sensors that will be used on the Mars lander, and they will conduct research into issues related to dust concentrations in the lower atmosphere of Mars and sublimation of exposed ice surfaces.

Cameron Dickinson, research associate, Department of Earth & Space Science & Engineering, Faculty of Science & Engineering, is studying the scattering of laser light with airborne Martian dust. Dickinson will be heavily involved in the operations of the meteorological instruments, including creation of the daily commands that will be uploaded to the lander, and managing the data that is sent back to Earth twice each day. He will also assist the science team at large, organizing and scheduling the experiments for all six instruments each day.

In memoriam – Diane Michelangeli (1962 to 2007)

Diane Michelangeli was a planetary scientist at York University and principal investigator for the Phoenix mission. As a specialist in microscopic measurements of clouds and their particles, she developed some of the most advanced computer models of the clouds and dust on Mars. Her work – so vital to understanding the atmospheric processes taking place near the landing site – made her a natural choice to lead the Canadian science contribution to the Phoenix mission. She died of cancer on August 30, 2007.

(Yes, there is science in Toronto north of Bloor ;-)

May 25, 2008

Darwin: The Evolution Revolution

The family and I all finally went down to the Royal Ontario Museum yesterday to take in their Darwin: The Evolution Revolution exhibit.

Overall, the exhibit was fantastic. We all enjoyed it tremendously, especially the two science fans among us. Even the no-so-enthusiastic science fans thought it was great. It's odd, because I've seen quite a few fairly harsh criticisms of the show online in various places -- mostly saying that it was too long and wordy and boring. Yes, it is a bit heavy on the reading rather than the "experiencing" we would expect from a grade-school oriented science centre exhibit, but that's completely natural. It is an exhibit aimed at adults rather than kids and we would expect adults to be able to deal with a more intellectually demanding experience that 8 year olds. In fact, if you have younger kids, do not take them to this exhibit. I would say about 11 or 12 is the minimum age to be able to really appreciate the experience, preferably even 14 or 15. My 12 year old enjoyed it but found it a bit long. My 15 year old just loved it.

Like I said, it is a bit long -- you need to give yourself 90 to 120 minutes to really absorb the contents and it would definitely repay a second visit. You could manage in 60 minutes but would have to skim a bit. We did it in about 90-100 minutes and it worked out pretty well. We also dropped by the tremendously improved dinosaur galleries afterwards before leaving.

Did I find anything disappointing? Yes. The gift shop. Now I'm not a big fan of shoving gift shops down the throats of visitors as they leave an exhibit but if there was any case where I was positively disposed to picking something up, this was it. The Darwin shop was fairly small and mostly concentrated on trinkets and little doodads, most too cute and/or overpriced. What few books they did have seemed rather randomly selected. For example, they had volume II of the Janet Browne set but not volume I. And that in hardcover rather than paperback. Considering how directly the exhibit is aimed at countering creationism, I was surprised that they didn't have more instructional books on evolution or any of the recent spate of anti-creationism books. The only one they did have was Shermer's Why Darwin Matters. Also I was quite disappointed in their lack of tshirts or other clothing. And not one DVD of any of the recent Darwin/evolution series.

May 23, 2008

Friday Fun: who what where when why how?

Read books, that is. An interesting meme-ish post over at The Hidden Side of a Leaf on Reading: who what where when why how? In other words,

While I was writing my Sunday Salon post last weekend, I started to think about how I have my reading material categorized according to when and where I read it. And I started to wonder if other people do the same thing. So, if you do, and want to write about this, consider it a meme you’re tagged for.

Yes, I categorize my reading material by where I read it.

On the Bus. I have a long commute to work everyday, at least 1hr each way, sometimes significantly more. Fortunately, it's all on buses or subways so I get to do a lot of reading. This category is almost always collections of short fiction or short essays. Sometimes I'll read a print out of a journal or magazine article or a zine like C&I. Right now I'm reading The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror: 17 edited by Stephen Jones. I go through about 12-15 of these per year.

Bedside. Almost always a novel. The theory is that this is my most regular, dedicated, uninterrupted, concentrated time of the day, those last 30 minutes before going to sleep. Right now it's Pyramids by Terry Pratchett. Another 12-15 per year.

Sitting around the house. When I don't feel like watching TV or surfing in the evening or it's a rainy weekend day I'll dig into a meaty non-fiction book. Sometimes I'll have more than one going at a time, depending on my level of interest and what pops up in my reading schedule. This is where I get in all the scitech books I review during the year. I'll also tend to put a book aside for a few months before coming back to it and finishing it. Right now there are two in this category: The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google by Nicholas Carr and The Dime Detectives by Ron Goulart. Another 12 or so per year.

Vacation. When we go to the cottage in the summer, I like to mix it up a bit and take a bunch of novels and one or two non-fiction. Of the novels, I'll take one SF, one horror, one mystery, one thriller for a bit of variety. I'll get through 6 or 8 books on a 4 week vacation. I also tend to obsessively plan what I'm going to take, starting to put books aside months in advance. I already have a bunch set aside for this summer. Oddly, it seems that the fiction might be mostly horror this time around.

Travel. For plane/train trips and conference travel in general, I'll always take a couple of trashy novels that I'm sure I'm going to like. The worst thing in the world is getting stuck on a plane (or in a hotel room) with a book you don't like. Sometimes I'll also take one of the Year's Best Science Writing-type books but those can be a bit much reading all the stories one after another. I also like picking up a surprise book now and then at a train station discount stall or airport bookstore. Another fun habit I've gotten into recently is to pick up the New York Times in the airport and read it while I'm waiting for my flight. I tend to get to airports insanely early, so it's a good habit to have.

Breakfast/Lunch. Print newspaper, pretty well all the time. Globe and Mail at home, Toronto Star at work.

What's missing? Magazines. For some reason, my former magazine addiction has cooled down considerably. I used to read 4-6 mags per month now I'm down to 1 or 2. They'll tend to temporarily supplant a book or newspaper in one of the other categories.

That was fun. Consider yourself tagged. You're a librarian, you know you have eccentric reading habits. Go ahead.

May 22, 2008

Best Science Books 2007: Royal Society Prize Short List

The short list for the The Royal Society's annual prize for science books is announced here.

  • A Life Decoded by J. Craig Venter

  • Coral: A pessimist in paradise by Steve Jones

  • Gut Feelings: The intelligence of the unconscious by Gerd Gigerenzer

  • Six Degrees: Our future on a hotter planet by Mark Lynas

  • The Sun Kings: The unexpected tragedy of Richard Carrington and the tale of how modern astronomy began by Stuart Clark

  • Why Beauty is Truth: The history of symmetry by Ian Stewart

Google Scholar and the future of A&I databases

This is a bit of a "told you so" post inspired by something I saw on Open Access News the other day: Google indexes 90% of recent engineering research. The post mentions a recent article in the The Journal of Academic Librarianship, May 2008: John J. Meiera and Thomas W. Conkling, Google Scholar’s Coverage of the Engineering Literature: An Empirical Study. The abstract says it all:

Google Scholar’s coverage of the engineering literature is analyzed by comparing its contents with those of Compendex, the premier engineering database. Records retrieved from Compendex were searched in Google Scholar, and a decade by decade comparison was done from the 1950s through 2007. The results show that the percentage of records appearing in Google Scholar increased over time, approaching a 90 percent matching rate for materials published after 1990.

My first Google Scholar post was way back in 2004 and I think what I said then is just as valid today:
Winners & losers:

  • Loser: the A&I industry. Big time. Google Scholar is free, their products are definately not. Can they add enough value to the data they have to make it worth our (ie. libraries) while to subscribe to their services? No one's cancelling all those indexes this year, or even next, but what about five years from now? The key here is adding value. Google's product will be one-size-fits-all, always a bit overwhelming. Also, it will be probably be limiting itself to stuff online-only. Will Google get the metadata for journal backruns that aren't online and refer users to their local academic library?

  • Winner: students. Big time. Students want to use simple interfaces, easy searches with highly relevant results. If Google can deliver that with this product like with their regular search engine, this will be a hugely popular tool amongst students.

  • Loser: non-OA journals. More and more, if a journal's content is not online for free, it will not exist for the new generation of scholars. Why use journal A behind some weird pay-money-or-else screen when journal B has their articles right here. I know that you can get to A via your friendly neighbourhood proxy server/academic library, but really, at 3 am with the paper due tomorrow and the student doesn't even know where the library is on campus, that's not going to happen. Also, anyone not afiliated with a subscribing institution will automatically choose B. It's only a matter of time before Google puts a "Free full text only" check box on the screen. Open Access will mean survival for journals in the Google world. Not this year, not next year, but maybe in five or ten.

  • Winner: academic libraries & librarians. Yes. We're winners. Think of what this could do for our budgets! Finally we can demo tools in the classroom that the students will think are relevant! No more blank stares & sneers! But seriously, the advantages of basically using one interface are huge in terms of teaching students how to get the most out of their search experience. Google will continue to be overwhelming for many and confusing to some, so we will still have the role of helping students navigate. Oh yeah, we'll actually be able to spend more time on concepts like critical thinking, scholarly communication and all those information literacy standards we talk about but rarely have time to actually teach.

  • Loser: vendors of federated searching products. One search is here. This is it. The real challenge, of course, will be figuring out how to get link resolver products like SFX to work with Google Academic. Also, for us Ontario universities, all our content is on a central server. How do we get our students using Google Scholar to find the content on our platform rather than automatically going to the publisher's site. An interesting challenge.

  • Winner: the general public all over the world. Obviously, this will bring together a lot of information and make it accessible to everyone. As more and more stuff becomes OA, more and more scholarly content will become easily accessible to everyone. This is a good thing.

Musings on the future of A&I indexes also played a very important part of my My Job in 10 Years series, with a whole post devoted to the issue -- one of my all-time most read posts, if that has any meaning. I won't quote here, but my main point was that in a Google Scholar world, A&I providers will have to struggle to figure out how to add enough value to the bibliographic, citation and indexing data to make it worth our while as librarians to license those databases. The evidence from the study cited above would seem to indicate that we're getting closer to the day where we can start doing other things with that money. Sure, there's still quite a few cases where the vendors add tons of value to the data (SciFinder, Illustrata, Web of Science...), but for how much longer is it going to be worth the huge investment on our part. Personally, I'd much rather be spending the money on acquiring full text content, digitizing our own unique collections and new services to reach out to our patrons.

Some of the places I've talked about this (and related issues) before:

May 20, 2008

Toronto Rising...on Nature Nework?

Thanks for Larry Moran for pointing me to this article on the surprising concentration of biotech research in Toronto.

When the University of Toronto managed to lure chemical geneticist Guri Giaever away from Stanford University two years ago, part of the inducement was a new, bigger lab, and part was a prestigious government-funded research chair. But the biggest factor in the move, Giaever says, was the colleagues with whom she would be working. "In terms of what I'm doing, I would pretty much say hands down that Toronto is the best place in the world," she says.

Canadian scientists and administrators welcome such adulation. With the much bigger and richer United States to the south, Canada has often been preoccupied with a brain drain, as the brightest minds sought greater rewards at one of its neighbour's institutions. Increasingly, though, the country's biggest city, Toronto, is celebrating a 'brain gain' as it succeeds in attracting top researchers, often to work at brand new research centres. Federal and provincial efforts that began a decade ago are helping to attract high-calibre researchers and putting them in charge of long-term, 'big science' projects, according to researchers and business development officials. The new policies are an attempt to build on Toronto's impressive existing research infrastructure.

No more than a brief mention for York, unfortunately, a hazard that comes with being far outside the city centre, even though we do have a biotech institute.

Now, given the incredible concentration of life sciences researchers that this all entails, you'd think Toronto would have more of a presence on Nature Network!

As it happens, NN is looking to open up more fully fledged Hub Cities, adding to London and Boston. People can "vote" for their city by changing the city & (potential) hub in their own NN profiles. Corie Lok explains on this SciBarCamp forum posting (more info). So if you're a Toronto life sciences person (or any scitech person), go on over to Nature Network and create yourself a profile, sign up for a hub and get Hogtown wired into Science 2.0. The Toronto "potential hub" is pretty sparse so far.

Update 2008.05.21: Matt Brown has more. It seems that after 24 hours of the new potential hubs feature, Toronto is actually right up there with Berlin!

May 18, 2008

Tapscott, Don and Anthony D. Williams. Wikinomics: How mass collaboration changes everything. New York: Portfolio, 2006. 295pp.

It seems that at least half the time I mention this book to someone interested in the way the web is changing social patterns the response is, "Oh, I tried to read it but just couldn't finish." It's an interesting response in many ways, one that tells us a lot about this book. Mostly it tells us that we're dealing with a seriously flawed book, one that has a lot of very interesting ideas in it, but that the presentation leaves a bit to be desired.

Personally, it did indeed take me a long time to read this book, at least a couple of months, reading a chapter here and there and putting it down for weeks at a time before taking it up again. It also took me a long time to get around to writing this review; I finished the book in the fall and I'm only just writing this now in May.

The topic? The affects of the sharing and collaboration promoted by web 2.0 technologies and how they will affect mainly businesses, but also other parts of society. Blogs, wikis, recommendation systems, user-generated comments, copyright, intellectual property, all the regular stuff. Interestingly, though, this was one of the first books to really tackle these issues and bring them to wide attention in the business community.

The issues? Typically of hype-oriented business strategy books, many of the claims seem wildly over-inflated and unsupported by facts or reality. The book is also incredibly repetitive, seemingly so that each paragraph, page or chapter could stand on its own. It's a strategy I see in a lot of business books: assuming that the reader has an incredibly short attention span and wants to get the main point just from reading a few pages or a chapter or two. At the same time, of course, no one's going to pay hardcover prices for a couple of chapters. So, just repeat and rephrase the main points constantly in each chapter. I find it kind of scary that there's a new expanded edition that's just gone on sale.

The book also overplays a lot of its points -- a lot of times I thought there was a bit of almost naivite involved, that the authors couldn't see the downside of some of the ideas they promoted. Globalization, deskilling, "race to the bottom," glorification of CEOs and top executives, the 100:10:1 phenomenon in online communities, a certain disdain for anything not new, hip or cool. An unawareness of the potential for tragedies of the commons in some of the areas. The idea that what are currently fringe activities are inevitably going to become dominant in the mainstream. The authors only spent very scant and almost dismissive attention to the human cost of economic paradigm shifts.

Frustrating, yes. On the other hand, there are a lot of good reasons to stick it out and read the whole book. It does make a lot of very good points about the benefits of openness and sharing for businesses and organizations of all types and sizes. There were actually many times while reading the book that I thought that if I could give one single book to every faculty member at my institution, this would be it. It so completely encompasses what is best about the web's ability to break down barriers and promote sharing and collaboration (not necessarily primary virtues in academia) that it would be interesting to see the effects of 1200+ faculty members all reading it together. This book is really a call to action for sharing and collaboration.

Read this book, the chapter on sharing and collaboration in eScience/Science 2.0 is very good. Be persistent and you'll make it all the way through. Read it, argue, engage and debate.

May 16, 2008

Friday Fun: Books & Beer

Will it be a lite beer with that Star Trek novel, sir?

Check out Jeff VanderMeer's two part series exploring beer & book combos:

For a long time, I’ve wondered why wine and food should have all the fun. Here at Omnivoracious, we also believe in the complementary pairing of books Now, please note that we’re not advocating irresponsible reading, but with the current popularity of micro-breweries and the role of beer in the writing of books over the centuries, it seems somehow irresponsible not to pair the two. We’re frankly a little surprised no one’s done it before.

Thus, I took it upon myself to explore the connection between hops and writing chops, going far afield to ask a diverse group of writers what beer or beers would go best with their latest work. The results were so revelatory and comprehensive that we’re running the first half of this feature today and the second half on Thursday...

Lots of comments on both posts, so they're well worth checking out.

Michael Swanwick is one of my favourite writers and Guinness is pretty well my favourite beer, so one of the suggested pairings is nirvana for me:
Michael Swanwick (The Dragons of Babel) and Daniel Abraham (A Betrayal in Winter) both recommended Guinness, Wise Old Man of Beers, Swanwick “because it's the favored draught of storytellers” and Abraham as the perfect ending for the book, after “starting off with a dark ale.” Swanwick’s selection of Guinness, he said, must include the reader picturing “me standing with an elbow on the bar and the glass in my hand, saying, ‘Listen. There once was a boy who loved dragons, and suffered because of it, but learned better...’” Abraham was also emphatic on beer purity: “nothing with funny flavors in it. No blackberries or raisins or any of that.”

And I heartily agree with Abraham about those weird fruity beers.

(Via via Lisnews.)

IEEE Trans on Education: Special issue on plagiarism

The latest issue of the IEEE Transactions on Education (v51i2) has a special section on plagiarism. A bunch of the articles look very interesting, both to scitech faculty and to librarians looking to collaborate with those faculty. I haven't read the articles in detail yet, so I'm not sure if librar* are mentioned in any of them.

Here's the relevant parts of the TOC:

May 15, 2008

Ok, this could be expensive

The Chess & Math Association is moving their Toronto store from about a 15 minute walk from my house to, literally, right around the corner.

The Chess'n Math Association established in Toronto in 1993. After 15 years on Bayview, and a recent change in landlords, we were forced to look for a new location for our retail outlet - Strategy Games - as our rent was about to double...

We have now signed a 5-year lease nearby at 701 Mt. Pleasant Rd. (South of Eglinton and opposite Sobeys). Cutomers will find parking to be better than on Bayview and this new location is also within easy walking distance of the subway. Lessons and school administration will continue at 1650 Bayview for the next few months.

Our lease at 1683 Bayview expires June 30th but if all goes well we expect to start operating out of Mt. Pleasant on or around June 20th.

We would like to thank everyone for their support over the years and we hope you will visit us at our new location.


Larry Bevand
Executive Director
Chess'n Math Association

York to the Power of 50: Chair in E-Librarianship created

The official announcement is today. The search process hasn't started yet (and I'm not sure if the time line is established yet on the search), but if it's the kind of thing you might be interested in, put your thinking cap on for a project. This is an amazing opportunity and a real step forward for us and really for librarianship.

A $1-million gift to York University through the York University Foundation from the family of William Pearson Scott is helping York create a new kind of library for the digital age.

The gift from Michael Scott, his wife Janet and their family, matched by the University, will create the W.P. Scott Chair in E-Librarianship, tasked with researching the innovations and implications of new developments in computing and information technologies. This extends to exploring areas such as e-learning, digital collections, collaborative Web spaces, social software, and interactive and integrative online services and information. The Chair will develop real-world services and programs for York University Libraries, ultimately benefiting students, faculty and the larger community.

"This is an exciting opportunity for all York's Faculties," says York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri. "A Chair in E-Librarianship will attract leading academics internationally and advance teaching and research well into the future."

"It's an unparalleled opportunity for York to lead Canadian innovation in this important area of learning," says University Librarian Cynthia Archer. "In fact this is the only Chair of its kind in Canada." The Chair will evolve quickly as technology does. The establishment of the Chair also supports York to the Power of 50, the University's fundraising campaign – already at more than $150 million in pledges or three quarters of the way toward its $200-million goal.

The interdisciplinary research possibilities for the W.P. Scott Chair in E-Librarianship are wide-ranging in scope. Specific projects could include advancing student engagement by incorporating such applications as Facebook, blogs, wikis and RSS feeds; exploring the provision of electronic books online for children in the developing world; establishing a presence in Second Life, an online virtual world inhabited by millions of "residents"; taking part in anthropological studies of students in a wired library; reviewing emerging economic models for electronic publishing; and creating and enhancing virtual research communities where scholars around the world can collaborate on common projects.

"The Internet has produced learning opportunities never before thought possible. Today's students and scholars are digitally savvy and want information to come to them – on demand," says Archer. "Ultimately, technology is transforming not only the way libraries operate, but universities as well. We must respond to the way today's students research and learn."

The Scott family was excited about the forward-looking nature of the project and felt naming the Chair was both a fitting tribute to the late William Pearson Scott and a way to continue his pioneering support of York.

William Pearson Scott – Pete Scott to friends and family – was one of the first members of the York University Board of Governors in 1959 and served as the chair of the board from 1966 to 1971. Never having attended university himself, Scott was one of York's greatest supporters during its formative years, also serving as the chairman of the finance committee. He spent most of his career with Wood Gundy. In the First World War, he was a lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps Special Reserve. During his life, he was also actively involved with the Toronto Arts Foundation, Stratford Festival, Toronto Board of Trade, United Community Fund, Toronto General Hospital and Wellesley Hospital. He was conferred with an honorary doctorate of laws (LLD) from York in 1971; and both the Scott Library and the Scott Religious Centre are named in his honour. Last year, a renovated room on the third floor of the Scott Library was named the W.P. Scott Study Room in recognition of a generous gift from the W.P. Scott Charitable Foundation.

For more information, visit the York University Foundation Web site.

Issues in Science & Technology Librarianship, Winter-Spring 2008

Lots of very interesting articles in the Winter-Spring ISTL.

  • Library Research Skills: A Needs Assessment for Graduate Student Workshops by Kristin Hoffmann, Fred Antwi-Nsiah, Vivian Feng, and Meagan Stanley, The University of Western Ontario
    ...As a first step, we conducted a needs assessment study via focus groups and an online survey. The study looked at graduate student perceptions of their library research needs, their preferences for learning about library research, and the appropriateness of a common instruction program for students in these disciplines. We found that graduate students wanted to learn about strategies for finding information, bibliographic management tools such as RefWorks, and tools for keeping current with scholarly literature. Students preferred online instruction, although in-person workshops were also found to be valuable. Students in all four faculties identified common information literacy needs, while expressing a desire for subject-specific instruction.

  • Providing Information Literacy Instruction to Graduate Students through Literature Review Workshops by Hannah Gascho Rempel, Oregon State University and Jeanne Davidson, Arizona State University
    As future professionals, graduate students must be information literate; however, information literacy instruction of graduate students is often neglected. To address this need, we created literature review workshops to serve graduate students from a wide range of subject disciplines at a point of shared need. Not only did this strategy prove to be successful in reaching a large number of students from a wide range of subject disciplines, the data gathered from the students identified some of the gaps graduate students have in their knowledge about library services.

  • Evolution of Reference: A New Service Model for Science and Engineering Libraries by Marianne Stowell Bracke, Purdue University, Sainath Chinnaswamy, University of Arizona, and Elizabeth Kline, University of Arizona
    ...In a time of shrinking budgets and changing user behavior the library was forced to rethink it reference services to be cost effective and provide quality service at the same time. The new model required consolidating different service points, i.e., circulation desk, photocopy desk, and reference desk into one central location to be staffed by library associates. First we performed a financial analysis and determined the cost per hour of the existing staffing model. This was followed by logging questions at different service points to understand the type of questions asked at different locations. This data-drive approach also uses a robust referral system where complex reference questions are referred to individual subject librarians. We performed Action Gap Surveys to measure customer satisfaction levels before and after we employed the model...

  • Does Chemistry Content in a State Electronic Library Meet the Needs of Smaller Academic Institutions and Companies?
    by Meghan Lafferty, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
    Smaller academic institutions and companies are not always able to afford access to Chemical Abstracts, the major source for the chemical literature, via SciFinder, SciFinder Scholar, or STN. In Minnesota, as in many other states, citizens do have access to a suite of interdisciplinary databases that offer some coverage of the chemical literature. I examined the coverage dates, document types, full-text availability, impact factor, publishers, and searchability and indexing of the chemistry-related content of Academic Search Premier and Business Source Premier which index academic and trade publications. A number of key journals in the field are indexed in the databases, but coverage does not go back very far. For this reason, I would not recommend it for undergraduates. The length of coverage may not be as important in industry as their needs are different.

Also highly appreciated are Ibironke Lawal's review of Scholarship in the Digital Age: Information, Infrastructure, and the Internet and Bob Michaelson laying the smackdown on the The American Chemical Society and Open Access:
If the ACS is to be a party to discussions of OA, they must stop getting their policy advice from PR flacks and start making rational contributions to the discourse. Otherwise they will continue to poison the waters, and deservedly will be accorded no credence.

To which there is really nothing to add.

May 12, 2008

Books I'd like to read

The first highlighted book is one I'm definitely going to read, because I already bought my copy this past Saturday. It's Canada's Fifty Years in Space by Gordon Shepherd and Agnes Kruchio. This one has a York connection as Gordon Shepherd is a long-time York faculty member and director of York's Centre for Research in Earth and Space Science. It was launched as part of the York activities for Science Rendezvous.

Canada's Fifty Years in Space by Gordon Shepherd and Agnes Kruchio

International space science began suddenly with the creation of COSPAR (Committee on Space Research) in October, 1958, and its first plenary meeting was held in London, in November the same year. Canada was at the table for both the creation and the first plenary meeting. Canada's Fifty Years in Space describes the parallel growth of the Canadian space science program from that date up to the 50th Anniversary of COSPAR, to be celebrated in Montreal in July, 2008...

The final achievement of the fifty years is a Canadian-built lidar that is part of the NASA Phoenix mission and is on its way to Mars, destined to land there in May, 2008. This work is about these missions over the fifty years, but also about the people who built them, launched them, captured the data and published the scientific results.

Hackerteen Volume 1: Internet Blackout By Marcelo Marques
This engaging graphic novel probes the modern online world where an increasing number of middle school- and high school-aged kids spend their time. Hackerteen teaches young readers about basic computing and Internet topics, including the potential for victimization. The book is also ideal for parents and teachers who want their children and students to understand the risks of using the Internet and the proper ways to behave online.

Note: My sons will love this one! (Ok, I'll love it too)

Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture
by Robert Bruce Thompson
For students, DIY hobbyists, and science buffs, who can no longer get real chemistry sets, this one-of-a-kind guide explains how to set up and use a home chemistry lab, with step-by-step instructions for conducting experiments in basic chemistry. Learn how to smelt copper, purify alcohol, synthesize rayon, test for drugs and poisons, and much more. The book includes lessons on how to equip your home chemistry lab, master laboratory skills, and work safely in your lab, along with 17 hands-on chapters that include multiple laboratory sessions.

Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life by Carl Zimmer
What is life? Can we make it from scratch? Are there rules that all living things must obey? Can there be life without death? Biologists today are seeking answers to these fundamental questions about life. Few people know that many of those answers may reside in a species of bacteria that live in our guts: E. coli.

In this startlingly original biography of a germ, Carl Zimmer traces E. coli's pivotal role in the history of biology, from the discovery of DNA to the latest advances in biotechnology. Zimmer describes the remarkably sophisticated strategies E. coli uses to stay alive, from practicing chemical warfare to building microbial cities. He reveals the many surprising and alarming parallels between E. coli's life and our own. Zimmer describes the profound insights E. coli has offered about evolution, by changing in real time and by revealing billions of years of history encoded in its genome. E. coli is also the most engineered species on Earth, and as scientists retool this microbe to produce life-saving drugs and clean fuel, they are discovering just how far the definition of life can be stretched.

Microcosm is the first full story of the one species on Earth scientists know best. It is also the story of life itself, of its rules, its mysteries, and its future.

May 9, 2008

IFLA 2008 Satellite Conference: Science Policies and Science Portals

Via Julia Gelfand:

The 2008 IFLA World Library and Information Congress Annual Meeting will be held in Quebec City, August 10-14, 2008. Information about the programs and conference are on the IFLA website at The Science and Technology Section is co-hosting a satellite pre-conference in Montreal at the Polytechnique Montreal on Friday, August 8 on "Science Policies and Science Portals: Progress and Activity From Around the World."

Registration is open at and the cost is 40 Euros.

This one-day program will address the ways in which national governments and organizations are dealing with the issues and challenges in disseminating scientific information created in the public sphere to meet the needs of the global community. The various portals that have been implemented and the policies that have been put in place will support the roles of the science and technology librarians around the world. The portals affect their ability to provide efficient and comprehensive access to important sources of scientific information.

Keynote speakers include:

  • Dr. Howard Alper. Chair, Canada Science, Technology and Innovation Council
  • Mr. Thomas Lahr. Chief Biologist for Information, United States Geological Survey Biological Informatics Office and Co-Chair, Alliance.
  • Wrap-Up: Mr. Richard Akerman. Technology Architect, Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (CISTI).

The program is sponsored by the IFLA Science and Technology Libraries Section (STS) and the Government Information & Official Publications Section (GIOPS).

If you have any questions, please contact Julia Gelfand (, Applied Sciences & Engineering Librarian, UC Irvine

Space and beyond: Science Rendezvous at York

Post updated: Science Rendezvous is tomorrow!

Once again, if you're in Toronto on Saturday May 10th, there's a whole bunch of science-y events at various institutions, including York. The York events will be concentrating on Space Science & Engineering. The event is called Science Rendezvous. The York events are at the Keele campus Lots of info in today's Y-File article.

York University will throw open the doors of its space science and engineering facilities to hundreds of future astronauts on Saturday, May 10. York is participating in Science Rendezvous, a new full day event that is free and open to the public. During Science Rendezvous, leading science and technology institutes, including York, will offer free tours, events, demonstrations and lectures. Participants can register for the day and pick up a program in the lobby of the Computer Science & Engineering Building. Registration opens at 12:30pm.

"York University's event will be very unique," says Elissa Strome, research officer for the Faculty of Science & Engineering. "We are opening the doors to our world-renowned space science and engineering facilites to showcase them to Canada's future astronauts and space scientists."

York-specific information here.

More-or-less cross posted from the CSE blog.

May 7, 2008

One Big Library registrations: Get 'em while they're hot!

Just an FYI for the undecideds out there. As of right now we're at 84 registered attendees. We'll be implementing a waiting list once we get beyond 90.

We're genuinely sorry to have to do that, but it's really because of space limitations at our venue. We really had no idea that registration would fill up so fast.

Blog about a classic (computer) science paper

Via Bora Zivkovic, Skulls in the Stars is challenging science bloggers to pick a classic paper in their fields and blog about it:

My “challenge”, for those sciencebloggers who choose to accept it, is this: read and research an old, classic scientific paper and write a blog post about it. I recommend choosing something pre- World War II, as that was the era of hand-crafted, “in your basement”-style science. There’s a lot to learn not only about the ingenuity of researchers in an era when materials were not readily available, but also about the problems and concerns of scientists of that era, often things we take for granted now!

Now, SitS specifies pre-WWII which probably won't work so well for disciplines like computer science so I'm sure people in new disciplines can just improvise with a foundational paper from a more recent time frame.

I'm hoping that some of the computer scientists out there can take this challenge and talk about some of the important papers from their fields. In particular, I can see this as being a useful classroom exercise as well.

In any case, to get the creative juices flowing, I'd like to point out that Wikipedia has a List of Important Publications in Computer Science page.

A couple that jump out at me that would be fun to see blogged:

Update: In the comments, Bora points out that SitS has updated the challenge:
Now that I’ve actually written my “classic science” blog post, I realized I didn’t plan any way to compile all the entries in the end! If you accept the “challenge” (I keep putting the word in quotes because I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to be confrontational), and post an entry, send me an email! I’ve put together a permanent page to compile all the entries together in one easy to find spot.

(I think I didn’t plan ahead because I didn’t think anyone was actually reading my blog!) :)

One final note: Just to have an end date associated with the challenge, let’s mark the end of May as the official end date; I’ll do a summary post at the end about everyone’s entries.

May 6, 2008

Reseach questions on Open Access

Via the indefatigable Peter Suber, check out the brand new Open Access Directory Wiki, which has lists on everything you could possibly want to know OA:

Welcome to the Open Access Directory (OAD), a compendium of simple factual lists about open access (OA) to science and scholarship, maintained by the OA community at large. By bringing many OA-related lists together in one place, OAD will make it easier for users, especially newcomers, to discover them and use them for reference. The easier they are to maintain and discover, the more effectively they can spread useful, accurate information about OA.

The goal is for the OA community itself to enlarge and correct the lists with little intervention from the editors or editorial board. For quality control, we limit editing privileges to registered users. We welcome your contributions to our lists, ideas for new lists, and comments to help us improve OAD. Please contact us or use the discussion tab. We expect a lot of traffic during our launch phase and please understand if we cannot get to all of the messages right away.

A great and worthy project, one which I support completely. If you know something worth sharing in the wiki, please contribute!

The thing I most wanted to draw attention to today is the list of OA Research Questions that need people to work on them. There's a ton of them, enough to keep us all working for a very long time.

To give a taste, here's the very first one in the list, in the Access category:
Publishers often assert that all or most of those who need access to peer-reviewed journal literature already have access. Who doesn't have access? What kinds of people don't have access and how well can we measure their numbers?
  • It's important to separate lay readers without access from professional researchers (in the academy, industry, and the professions) without access. Among professional researchers without access, it would help to classify by country and field.

  • It's also important to distinguish demand for access from people without access. Some of those without access may not care to have it. How well can we measure the demand for access among those who don't currently have it?

  • Can we redo the estimates annually in order to have a moving measurement of our progress in closing the access gap and meeting the unmet demand?

There's also a companion list of Research in Progress, which is a bit sparse right now. If you're doing OA-related research, it would be a great idea to share what you're doing with colleagues.

May 4, 2008

Chapman, Matthew. 40 Days and 40 Nights. New York: Collins, 2007. 288pp.

Full title: 40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, Oxycontin, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania. (Post title field isn't big enough.)

This is a loosely connected sequel to Matthew Chapman's previous book, Trials of the monkey: An accidental memoir in which he revisited the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of the 1920s. That was a great book, interweaving as it did Chapman's own colourful life story with the story of the trial as well as his visit to the original Tennessee town where it took place, Dayton.

40 Days and 40 Nights, on the other hand, is Chapman's chronicle of the latest battle between creationists and the reality-based community in the US -- the Dover, PA trial of 2005.

Chapman uses some of the same strategies in the Dover as he did in the first book on the Scopes Trial. He tells the story of the trial as a story about people: the lawyers, the defendants, the townspeople, the media. And a colourful lot they were, making those aspects of the book very entertaining and compelling. The weakness of the book is related to those colourful characters -- the chronicle of the trial itself never really seemed to come alive for me in the same way that his telling of the Scopes trial did.

It was also a bit of a disjointed narrative, switching back and forth between more character-based sections and trial description that just didn't work for me as well as the first book. Perhaps the thing that I missed the most was Chapman's own story. In the Scopes book, Chapman was everywhere, it was his story as much as Dayton's or William Jennings Bryan's or Clarence Darrow's. 40 Days and 40 Nights needed to be more of a personal story, to engage me on a personal rather level rather than just as a spectator at at a car crash.

Overall, however, it is a pretty good book, one that I would recommend for any public library and any academic library that collects popular science.

May 3, 2008

One Big Library Unconference: Filling up fast!

Sitting here at my computer at around noon on Saturday, May 3rd the registration for the One Big Library stands at 61. We're planning to cap it at around 80, due to the size of our venue. Overall, I have to say that I'm pleasantly surprised by the speed that the registrations have been flowing it. It shows that there's a terrific interest in our concept.

The variety of people that have registered is also gratifying. We have people coming from a good cross section of Ontario post-secondary institutions as well as from public, school and other libraries. Not to mention a good number of recent grads from various library schools. We also have a few of people from outside the library world too.

The breadth of topics and sessions that have been proposed is also very encouraging for the event itself. As is the reaction so far around the web.

Which brings me to Walt Crawford's post.

And there’s something about it that bothers me. Namely, the premise as stated in that first paragraph.

Sorry, but I don’t buy it as a reality or as a desirable future. I don’t think of Harvard College Library as a branch of The ARL Library, much less Mountain View Public Library, Harvard College Library, NYPL, Hewlett-Packard Corporate Libraries and the Poy Sippi Public Library as all being branches of One Big Library.

I think of all these as distinctive and distinctly local institutions–institutions which, being libraries, are really good at sharing and should get even better at it. But sharing is quite different than being a branch of a whole.

Reading Walt's comments and re-reading our goals I can see how it's possible to see our aims as homogenizing rather than unifying and I guess we could have been more explicit. Please read the comments on Walt's post where Laura Crossett, David Fiander, Connie Crosby and John Miedema all seem to have a pretty good idea of what we're trying to do: focus on co-operation and collaboration among libraries and librarians in meeting the needs of our patrons. But there will always be tension between centralizing and decentralizing forces in any organization or consortium of organizations, a tension that can be negative but that can also be constructive and creative.

As wary as I am to post on the York institutional and/or the Ontario/Scholars Portal contexts, I can say that both of those come equipped with a some small portion of the centralizing and homogenizing impulses that are in a creative tension with intensely local patron needs. And both contexts also have librarians and staff that want to build something together while at the same time being loyal to their local patron communities. We want to collectively and collaboratively build something wonderful and terrific for the benefit of everybody as well as maintain our individual identities. Maybe the One Big Library it's just in the air here. And if some of that tension comes out at the conference, well, that's healthy too.

May 2, 2008

Morville, Peter. Ambient findability. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2005. 188pp.

Ambient findability describes a fast emerging world where we can find anyone or anything from anywhere at anytime. We're not there yet, but we're headed in the right direction. Information is in the air, literally. And it changes our minds, physically. Most importantly, findability invests freedom in the individual. (p. 6-7)

This is a very good book. If you're interested in the way the web works, you would be hard pressed to find a better book to help you in your researches.

Peter Morville is perhaps best known as the co-author of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, one of the true classics in the web design/development/architecture field. Morville is also a librarian and has great sympathy for libraries as institutions and the problems we face in adapting ourselves to a new information landscape.

So, what's this new book all about? It's basically about how to design your web presence so that people can find your stuff when they're looking for it, even if they didn't know it was your stuff they were looking for. Sound relevant for libraries? You betcha.

The opening chapters deal with definitional issues such as information literacy, wayfinding and information retrieval and interaction. The book goes on to discuss "interwingling" as an important concept -- the idea that everything is everywhere, all bunched up together. But how to find interwingled stuff? Push or pull? Maybe the semantic web has the answers? How do we make informed decisions in a complex, networked culture? What are our sources of inspiration? According to Morville, we will find the clues to these questions in an ambiently findable information landscape. But, interestingly enough, he's not really that fond of a totally miscellaneous world, being quite fond of classifications and controlled vocabularies to help make things more findable. (p. 129) Being one of the tribe, he also has a high regard for the work librarians do and for our efforts in promoting information literacy. (p. 172)

Morville is a great writer -- the writer of the kind of book that stops you in your tracks and makes you re-think

On attention:
We love our cell phones but not the disruption. We love our email but not the spam. Our enthusiasm for ubiquitous computing will undoubtedly be tempered by reality. Our future will be at least as messy as our present. (p. 97)

This book is a classic in the making. It's well worth reading and re-reading as the problems and issues it discusses are both eternal and of immediate and vital importance.

May 1, 2008

What's an education for, anyways

A good question. It seems to me that the purpose of an education is not to confirm the student's pre-existing habits and prejudices, but to help them to explore new ways of doing things. In higher education, part of that is going to be to expand their horizons from the stuff they learned in high school, to learn how to use new tools for self-expression (ie. for someone who has never created a web page, that would be a good thing to learn), to learn how to use old tools for self-expression (ie. for someone who has never written a literature review paper, that would be a good thing to learn) and even to learn how the scholarly landscape operates in the discipline they are studying.

Let's see what some other people have had to say on this recently.

First up, sociologist Eszter Hargittai, in an interview at Wired Campus talks about how web savvy students really are as opposed to how savvy everyone assumes they are. Or hopes that they are.

Q. What are the challenges for colleges that hope to better educate students about Web use?

A. How do you fit this into the curriculum? Is it supposed to be an academic department, or through libraries? How can you legitimately stand in front of a classroom when the students have an assumption that they know more about technology than you? At the beginning of my classes, I tell my students, “I know you don’t think I know as much as you because I’m older. I assure you, I know way more than you guys about this.” And they sort of smile, but by the end of the class they realize I’m right.

That's really one of the great challenges of libraries going forward: convincing students that we have something to offer to them, that we know something that they don't, that old fogies can be web savvy.

As far as learning to be a scholar, Wayne Bivens-Tatum points out that the way the humanities are studied really hasn't changed. Our obsession with being "innovative" in the way we deliver collections and services to humanities scholars is, beyond a certain point, kind of delusional:
The humanities are about reading and thinking through language and texts. We can’t assume that they inhabit a “visual culture” and there’s an end on it. There’s almost no visual culture in the humanities outside of art or film criticism. Humanistic scholars read, write, discuss, argue. They don’t make collages or Youtube videos, at least not as a central part of their scholarship. They might record a lecture, but that’s usually much more boring than reading an essay. I don’t know why we sometimes assume that the newest generation is somehow too slow or shallow to be able to adapt themselves to this scholarly tradition. They play video games, and they read books. They make videos, and they write essays. The liberal arts, the studies proper to free and rational human beings, are alive and well. That they aren’t the stuff of reality TV or celebrity websites means nothing, because they have always been the domain of the relative few who seek to question or reflect upon the world around them. Higher education in America gives us the opportunity to expand the benefits of the humanities, not assume that such study is irrelevant to the desires of today’s youth while we desperately flail around trying to seem relevant.

Now, I don't think what Wayne is saying applies to the sciences in quite the same way. After all, the escience computational revolution is radically changing the way that scientific data, information and knowledge themselves are being generated. And the way science is being communicated. But on the other hand, it really does help to know where you've been to be able to figure out where you're going. In that sense, new scientists can truly benefit from diving into all those old books and journals mouldering on the shelves and understanding how science was generated and communicated in the past.

The next bit is from an actually rather distasteful little article whose main point seems to be, "I'm a visual arts scholar, so the art I like is intrinsically better than the art you like." As someone who appreciates both Black Sabbath and Miles Davis, I find it rather condescending. But, if you change the the phrases around the word "taste" for "intellectual habits" or "searching skills" or "confidence with technology" I think there's something valid:
Freshmen arrive on campus with their own taste in everything from music to clothes, food, and electronic equipment. Consciously or not, they also have developed certain tastes in art. Taste being what it is, and young people being what they are, freshmen usually arrive with either no taste or very bad taste — not just in art, but in everything — but in either case, they’re very comfortable with their tastes. They don’t expect or want to change them. The paradox is that it just so happens that their taste, which they consider to be something that’s very particular and individual, is, in most important respects, exactly the same as that of most other college freshmen.

So, what's an education for? It seems to me that it's about changing the way you see things, not confirming or pandering to easy habits or ideas.