November 7, 2008

E-Science, Science 2.0, Open Science -- So what's a librarian to do?

Thinking about the science 2.0 part of that.

A couple of not-quite-so-recent posts here have gotten me thinking about some of the interesting stuff going on in the web 2.0/science 2.0 space. The first post dealt with some definitional issues and sparked a nice discussion on FriendFeed. The second was some impressions I had from the Science in the 21st Century conference and how what's going on in science may affect libraries.

I thought it might be nice to bring some of those themes around to some more concrete ideas about what I might be able to do in my library to engage students (graduate and undergraduate), faculty and researchers in that science 2.0 space.

Here's some ideas, some fairly widely implemented already, mostly pretty easy to get started, some of which I've tried and some I haven't, some I probably never will. Some of them will be good ideas, some will be bad, some will work in some places but not others.

  • Institutional FriendFeed Room. The idea here would to create something like a "York University Faculty of Science & Engineering Room" and post interesting stuff to it, both about science and engineering in general and about York's contributions. Furthering the idea, members of the York Science & Engineering community would also participate, post and comment.

  • Nature Network. The idea here is to encourage some forward thinking faculty and grad students to jump in and join Nature Network. We could create groups and forums, some of us could blog and comment in other blogs and groups. The interest and excitement sparked by this core would attract others and maybe the groups would be viable and some faculty or grads would find that blogging suits them.

  • Institutional Blogs. I think that there are two kinds of focus here, one internally focused and one externally focused. An inwardly focused blog would be all about library and general science news focused on the community. A lot of institutions have these kinds of blogs, with the York Libraries having a lot of them. An outward focused library blog would try to bring the institution's story to a broader audience. My CSE blog had some elements of that and I'm not sure what others have done in this vein. The problem with an externally focused blog is that it might step on toes of faculty or institutional communications people. But, if they aren't blogging, maybe the library should just do it; it's easier to apologize than to ask permission.

    Overall, blogging is an established activity and a good way to build community. This could be a good way to start, but definitely with a strong commitment and with keeping expectations is check as these types of things can take a while to build momentum.

  • FaceBook Group and/or Page. This is the lamest option. They mostly don't work at creating community but I feel that I do have to mention them here. Easy to create and maintain, so it's not a bad idea to create one but expectations have to be low. We have one with a fair number of fans but not a lot of activity

  • Citation Management. An interesting idea would be to make a big push promoting a citation tool that really emphasizes sharing and collaboration, like Connotea or Mendeley or that is really cool and user friendly like Zotero. These are all free and very cool looking so they'll attract grad students. On the other hand, they're also not quite as functional as a boring old standby like RefWorks. But, since these types of tools are very popular and necessary, they can be a way to get people involved.

  • Leverage what's already happening. If there are social spaces that faculties or departments are setting up, find a way to get the library some real estate in those spaces. When I look at something like what MST Visions is doing, I always think that there's got to be a way to take advantage of that, to get the library involved and providing content. It's not always possible, but it's worth trying. If some departments, faculties or schools already have blogs or whatever, find a way worm our way in. The worst that can happen is they say no. Be persistent and persuasive. Often the people that run the sites are looking for content and contributors.

Just throwing these out there.

In many of the above scenarios, the real challenge is first, creating something that's useful, fun and compelling. The second challenge is to interest people in joining and contributing. The two challenges are related, of course. The degree to which these kinds of initiatives and useful, fun and compelling is directly related to who's involved and how much they contribute. The chicken-and-egg factor is quite high here and there's only so much that the library people involved can function as pump-primers. There's nothing sadder than an empty social network.

What I'm really hoping for from you out there is some input on all this. What are some other ideas that are worth exploring? Which of the above have the best chance of working? What are some strategies to get the buy-in and participation that are

If you're a scientist or faculty member out there reading this -- what would work for you? How could your library facilitate a discussion around scholarly communications issues in your institution. How could your library help you to connect and share information both locally and with scientists nationally and internationally. Any librarians or Research/Communications Officers out there with any ideas? Grad and undergrad students are also welcome to pitch in.

If you think the answer is that I'm delusional and that libraries don't really have a role in those areas, you can feel free to just be blunt about that too.

(Escience and open science are a couple of whole other cans of worms and maybe I'll come up with some ideas about libraries nosing their way into those a bit later on.)

(This post has been percolating for quite a while, so sorry if it seems disconnected to my recent posting. I'm doing an OLA presentation more-or-less on this topic in the new year, so this is also part of those ruminations.)


ylsned said...

I assume you know that Gerstein uses IM
I had them in my list for a while, when I used MSN, but the one time I asked something I didn't get an answer (maybe they left it on and had walked away?)

John Dupuis said...

Thanks, Eva, I didn't know Gerstein used IM.

We do too at my library, but only evenings and weekends. I also have my own private IM for supporting students I give lit research skills sessions to.

Unfortunately, it's rather tricky staffing IM. Questions are quite infrequent and it's very easy to forget to switch your status when you step out of your office for a minute. Also, meebo is a bit inconsistent with the chime sounding when you get a message. Sometimes it just doesn't work.

That said, I probably should have added a (properly staffed) IM service to my list.