May 18, 2009

Check out the new home for Confessions of a Science Librarian

Over at

After 6.5 years and over 1300 posts, a new chapter begins.

My sincerest thanks to everyone who's read, commented and supported this blog over the years for your time and attention. And I'll be seeing you over at the new digs!

May 13, 2009

Library Faculty Open Access Declarations

That I know of, we have three four groups of library faculty that have adopted declarations of one sort or another that promote more availability and openness for the content they produce, either work-related or professional/scholarly contributions:

Now I have two questions:
  • Are there any others I don't know about?

  • What are the rest of us waiting for?

Librarians are big promoters of OA but I think sometimes we don't quite practice what we preach. An opportunity exists for us to show that we mean what we say -- that sharing and openness are the values we both promote and practice.

(Disclosure: There have been rumblings at MPOW about this, but nothing concrete yet. I'm also rather slowly depositing my own stuff in our institutional repository; I'll try and get something else in today. BTW, check out my spiffy new web site!)

C2E2/CDEN: Engineering the Future

Thanks to Sharon Murphy of Queens for reminding me that the final deadline for the call for submissions is May 15th for The Sixth International Conference on Innovation and Practices in Engineering Design and Engineering Education. The conference is July 27 - 29, 2009 at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

From the general call for papers:

The sixth CDEN International Design Engineering Conference will focus on design innovation and engineering education that are such essential ingredients of creating a new future for the people of Canada and the world. Submissions can include, but are not limited to, the philosophy of design; tools and techniques for effective and successful design; methods and tools for designing to meet needs; methods for and research into the assessment of design; teaching and promoting design; humanitarian design; design successes and failures; tear-downs of designs and design-processes; the infrastructure required for design; lessons and methods used in non-engineering design fields; design for commercialization; and related topics.

The goal of the conference is to explore design practice and teaching that leads to better lives for Canadians.

Sharon's coordinating the technical session on "Information Research and Knowledge Management" and would love to see proposals from librarians. You can contact her at murphys at queensu dot ca.

Unfortunately, the conference is during my Summer vacation this year, so I won't be able to attend. It's doubly unlucky because Hamilton is so close to Toronto that attending would have been quite easy.

May 8, 2009

There's a lot of things you can do with the Internet

Thanks to Michael Geist for the information that tomorrow's Ivor Tossell column in the Globe and Mail will be his last. I've really enjoyed Tossell's column over the years, even (especially) when I've disagreed. He's given good coverage of the online world and I'll miss that. I understand that sometimes a column just runs its course and maybe the Globe wasn't getting what it hoped for any more, but I'll certainly miss it. Hopefully, the Globe will replace the column with something new and equally exciting.

I'll quote most the same bits from the final column as Geist because they are representative of Tossell at his best:

There's a lot of things you can do with the Internet. You can sit around all day, strip-mining the Net for free movies. You can disappear into virtual worlds. You can log onto your favourite website and leave a comment that will cause readers to wonder whether the planet wouldn't have been better off left to the dolphins.

You can buy a webcam and do something profoundly embarrassing that will render you unemployable for years. You can spend your days filling up Facebook with a hollow performance of yourself. You can create a Web service that seems destined to change everything, only to discover - several billion dollars later - that it really changed nothing, because people are people, and the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Or you can make something. On the sunniest days, I look at the Web and I see a world of people making things. Maybe they're cat videos; maybe they're full-blown recreations of science-fiction series from the late sixties. Either way, the creative process never happens in a vacuum. It's an endless back and forth of ideas and materials, and some of them will always cross the lines of ownership and copyright.

Friday Fun: Five songs I love

Not my five favourite songs -- that list doesn't really exist. Not the five best songs. Not even five objectively great songs. Just five songs that really keep knocking around my head. This week is pretty hard rock -- maybe I'll do a different set another one of these weeks.

  • Neon Knights by Black Sabbath. I'm a major Sabbath fan, mostly of the Ozzy and Dio eras although I enjoy the other eras as well. Interestingly, I never really got into the Ozzy stuff until after I heard this song, which is probably my favourite Sabbath song.

  • Tears of the Dragon by Bruce Dickinson. I've never been that much of an Iron Maiden fan but I do love Dickinson's solo stuff. Chemical Wedding is one of my all time favourite albums. (A great unplugged version of Tears of a Dragon.)

  • Dreamline by Rush. Canadian content, of course, in mandated on all blogs originating in the Great White North. I'm not a huge Rush fan, but this is one song of theirs I really love.

  • Young Man Blues by The Who. Back in high school, when everyone else was arguing whether The Beatles or The Stones were the best rock band in the world, I was saying The Who (Yes, I'm that old). I haven't changed my mind.

  • My Sacrifice by Creed. Prime cheese, I know, but I just love this song. It's probably the only Creed song I like even a bit.

So what are five songs you really love?

May 5, 2009

Are you a librarian?

Such were the innocent words on the big ad on the ScienceBlogs site the other day.

Well, I'm a librarian, I like the ScienceBlogs site quite a bit, so I clicked the link. Lo and behold a librarian survey. "Hey", I think, "ScienceBlogs wants to know what I think about stuff!"

To cut a long story short, it's not really a survey about what librarians think about science publishing, science blogs or ScienceBlogs. It's a marketing survey basically asking us if we subscribe to Seed Magazine (both Seed and ScienceBlogs are run by the same company). My library already does. As a nice reward for filling out the survey, they promised to send anyone who filled it out a ScienceBlogs coffee mug. At that point, I thought it was a fair trade and promptly posted a link to the survey on both FriendFeed and Twitter. And forgot about it.

But, thanks to a couple of comments on Friendfeed from suelibrarian, especially "I got to a question related to whether I would consider purchasing a particular magazine then got out of it." I started thinking a bit more.

At this point, it would probably be most useful to check out the FF conversation that resulted.

Offended, annoyed, bemused, whatever. The point that came to mind from this particular bit of marketing was that Seed saw me as a librarian more in the cheque-writing role than in another possible role, that of a collaborator with publishers in the job of disseminating scholarly and other information about science and technology.

And that's ok. I certainly wear a "buying stuff" hat. I like Seed Magazine and I really like ScienceBlogs, so I bear no ill will to them at all for this particular marketing strategy and will use my mug with great gusto when it arrives. If they pick up a few library subscriptions and that helps them get through a tough economy, great. (On the other hand, it would have been nice if...)

More precisely, this incident has raised a number of questions I have for myself. Scholarly communications is changing, Open Access is growing, commercial publishers are holding on to their places fiercely, scholarly monographs are transforming (slowly), media is approaching a weird singularity.

What are some of those questions?

  • How do we want publishers to see us?

  • What do we need to tell publishers about what we do?

  • How do we form as strong ties to OA publishers as we have often done with toll access publishers in the past, both commercial and society?

  • What would an OA publisher Library Advisory Group look like?

  • How can librarians help publishers figure out what business model is most appropriate for them?

  • What does a post-stuff library look like?

  • What does a post-stuff librarian do?

Lots of questions, of course, and not particularly any answers at this point.

I'd be interested to hear any answers and/or questions from all of you out there. Maybe we can come up with some together.

May 4, 2009

Is Canada losing the lab-rat race?

Good article in Saturday's Globe and Mail by Erin Anderssen and Anne McIlroy.

Ariana Rostami ranks chemistry and biology as her favourite classes. She gets top marks in her advanced Grade 11 courses and is happy to discuss quantum mechanics. But ask her about a career in research and she grimaces as though someone suggested locking her in a dark closet.

Which is only a slight exaggeration of how she and many of her fellow students regard the scientific enterprise - they picture long, lonely nights exiled in a lab, isolated from other humans, continually begging for funding.

"Look up 'scientist' on Google," the 16-year-old says, "and you will see someone in a lab coat." At the moment, she is considering something with more immediate results, such as physiotherapy.


How do you change education systems that often drive students away from science and build a national culture in which the best young minds naturally envision themselves as future Nobel winners and not ostracized, penny-pinching lab rats?

Just ask the students in Ottawa if they can name a Canadian scientist. "Only if he's dead," jokes Shadman Zamau, 16, before volunteering Alexander Graham Bell - whose invention of the telephone is now more than 130 years old.

It's a very eye-opening article on an important issue -- attracting young people to science research careers. There's a very interesting tension, here, of course. You always want the best and brightest to pursue research careers. But there are many things that are discouraging them.

First of all, actual career prospects are mixed at best for academia. Salaries are often only mediocre after a very long apprenticeship. Compared to other careers like medicine or law, this is definitely to science's disadvantage.

Second of all, scientists have a very low media profile and what there is of it is very poor. Again, compared to medicine and law, what's the profile of science on TV or in the movies? Pretty well the only positive images are in the CSI shows, and those are more crime shows than science shows.

Third of all, science has a low social profile in Canada. When you look at how it's published (especially the major commercial and academic houses, which virtually ignore science and what's happening at NRC Press), how it's featured in newspapers and other media, what the various governments actually do as opposed to what they say they're going to do, it's hard not to argue that we're getting the national science infrastructure we actually want.

Interestingly, the one argument that doesn't resonate with me is the idea that science is poorly taught in high school and that discourages students. I went to high school, and all the subjects were taught poorly, not just science. I had good science teachers and bad science teachers. But the exact same thing was true of the other subjects as well -- there were good and bad teachers.

Anyways, read the article. It makes these points in much more eloquent detail that I can.

BTW, I can't help seeing this particular quote in the article as a clarion call for more Canadian science blogging:
Success breeds success, he says. "As a nation, we expect our hockey teams to win because they always have. If you are good as a nation at something, there are role models for young people coming through."

Scientists themselves accept some of the blame. Samuel Weiss, who won a prestigious Gairdner Award last year for his discovery that the adult brain can produce new cells, says Canadian scientists have to get better at thumping their chests.

"As scientists, we are way too reticent to tell the story and engage the community the way scientists engage the community in other countries. ... We'll point to government, but I don't know if we have made the case about how important science is."

May 1, 2009

Friday Fun: Explaining Twitterspeak to Others


This one really is priceless.

When someone on Twitter says, "I’m here in [COOL LOCATION] but am so exhausted from the flight I’m gonna crash."

What they really mean is, "Hey everyone, I got to go to [COOL LOCATION] and you are stuck in your lame place!"

Oh, so true -- Twitter definitely uncovers some less-than-proud moments for humanity. And you know what, we've mostly all been guilty of Tweetspeak at some point too! (Or at those of us on Twitter. All you other lower life forms get a pass on this one ;-)

(Yeah, yeah, subscribe to me on Twitter, because, you know, I need "only 7 more followers until I reach [IMPRESSIVE-SOUNDING NUMBER]!")