November 29, 2007

IEEE Library Advisory Council Presentations

The latest What's New@IEEE in Libraries has a link to a page with PDF versions of all the presentations from last month's meeting in New York.

All the presentations are well worth checking out. The first two, by non-LAC members Ricard Sweeney and Anthony Breitzman, were the keynote presentations. Sweeney's on "Kids Today" and Breitzman's on the importance of the scholarly literature in patent applications.

Since I don't believe our Google Docs presentation is convertible into PowerPoint or PDF formats without major magical intervention, I will include a link here to the Google Docs published version: Nature as an Example of Web 2.0 by Michael Buschman and John Dupuis.

Review of Balanced Libraries in SciTech News

My review of Walt Crawford's Balanced Libraries: Thoughts on Continuity and Change has been reprinted in the November 2007 issue SLA Scitech Division's SciTech News.

Christina contacted me a few months ago about getting permission to reprint the article and I was very pleased to grant it; SciTech News is always full of interesting information so it's nice to be included. For those of you not already members, the newsletter is certainly incentive to join one of the several divisions that publish it: Chemistry, Engineering and SciTech, Aerospace section of Engineering and Materials Research and Manufacturing section of Chemistry.

Best Science Books: New York Times notable books

Chad Orzel at Uncertain Principles expands a bit on the recent bout of complaining that the New York Times doesn't include enough science books in it's Notable Books Lists. As a public service, he lists the Times' notable science books from 2003 to 2006, showing a significant decline from 10 to 3.

November 28, 2007

CISTI Pay Per Article

So, here's the story:

It’s just past seven on Friday night. You’re finally sitting down after a long, hard week and then, it hits you: your boss is expecting your report on alternative fuel vehicles to be on his desk first thing Monday morning. Your research and notes are on your laptop and, flipping it open, you Google. You come up with close to two million results – not good. You start to scroll down the results, hoping that something will jump out at you and, eureka. You strike pay dirt. You come across Canada’s scientific and technical research library and best kept secret: National Research Council Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (NRC-CISTI). You’ve discovered a wonderful new service that allows you, for a small fee, to access for one view, one print, over 11 million articles in their database–you have a goldmine at your fingertips!

With over 600,000 requests for information annually, NRC-CISTI, also known as Canada’s national science library, provides assistance to over 5,500 clients worldwide. The Pay-Per-Article (PPA) service is another example of the innovation and leadership that the National Research Council is known for. The PPA service, launched officially in July 2007, enables users to quickly access an extensive selection of STM articles held locally in NRC-CISTI's electronic and print journal collections. Coverage from NRC-CISTI's print journal collection includes articles from over 10 000 journals published in 1993 or later. NRC-CISTI's electronic journal collection covers articles from major publishers. This material dates from the present back to the 1950s, depending on the publication.

Getting back to your report. You access several journal articles by leading researchers in the field of alternative fuel technology. You finish your report before the cartoons finish Saturday morning and you are able to spend the rest of the week-end relaxing – or learning about alternative heating systems for your house. I wonder if there are any articles on green roofs in the PPA system…

A common enough story, I think. As much as we all wish that everything were available for free on the Internet, we're just not there yet. Getting the scholarly and professional literature to go Open Access is going to be a long and bumpy road.

In the mean time, The Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information has launched a Pay Per Article service to help people get access to the information they need at a reasonable price -- $12 Canadian. There's a plug-in you download that makes sure you can only download and print an article from their online collection once.

This is an interesting and useful service, one that I hope finds a useful niche among small businesses and independant researchers. I just hope not too many students and others end up paying for content their institutions already subscribe too. On the other hand, being a person that hopes that the various Open Access publishing models become the norm over the next decade or so, I wonder what the longer term future is for such a service.

(And just so you know, CISTI approached me to blog about this service.)

One Thousand Posts!

(In your best "One Million Dollars" Dr. Evil voice.)

A bit of a milestone here at CoaSL. This is the 1,000th post since my first one way back on October 3rd, 2002. A thousand posts in a little over 5 years is not much in comparison to a lot of blogs out there but it's something I'm pretty happy about and even proud of. This humble blog has certainly brought me a few small perks over the years as well as connecting me to a community of librarians and scientists I truly appreciate. It's given me an opportunity to join in a conversation about the present and future of our disciplines and professions in a way that I couldn't have imagined in a pre-blog world.

So, thanks for listening everyone!

November 27, 2007

Best science books 2007: Quill & Quire

The Canadian book industry trade magazine Quill & Quire has published their 2007 Books of the Year issue. As I've been doing with other sources, I thought I'd point out some of the science related titles in their list. So...

  • The Chickens Fight Back: Pandemic Panics and Deadly Diseases That Jump from Animals to Humans by David Waltner-Toews
  • The End of Ignorance: Multiplying Our Human Potential by John Mighton (math education)
  • Man Who Forgot How to Read: A Memoir by Howard Engel (memoir of stroke survivor)
  • Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams

An interesting if somewhat short list, with only one (the Waltner-Toews) that I would really call a science book. It's too bad that the Q&Q fares as badly as the NYT in picking good science books. I certainly wish that they would pay more attention to science books just like I wish that Canadian publishers would actually publish more science books. But that's a different rant.

November 26, 2007

Best science books 2007: New York Times Book Review

A couple of weeks ago the NY Times released it's 100 Notable Books of the Year online, considerably ahead of when it will appear in print in the December 3rd Holiday Books issue.

So, The New York Times is science-friendly, right? You bet! Guess how many of the notable books are science-related? Ten? Five? Actually, three. Disappointing to say the least. I hope the Science Times section does a proper list in the coming weeks.

Here's the three:

  • Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race by Richard Rhodes
  • How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman.
  • The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West, and the Fight Against AIDS by Helen Epstein

November 23, 2007

Friday Fun: Rock n Roll Chancellor Edition

Every university needs it's own Rock n Roll chancellor, right?

It seems that Liverpool John Moores University in the UK has named Queen's Brian May as Chancellor.

From the press release:

Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Board, Sir Malcolm Thornton said today: "On behalf of the governing body of Liverpool John Moores University, I am delighted to announce that Brian May will be the new Chancellor of LJMU. Not only is Brian an icon in his own sphere but he is a real academic star as well. He perfectly embodies the 'can do' attitude of LJMU; he is going to be a great Chancellor for the students and a wonderful figurehead for the University." ...

Professor Mike Bode, Director of LJMU's Astrophysics Research Institute said: "I am absolutely delighted to learn that Dr Brian May is to be the next Chancellor of the University. He had a very hard choice to make in his mid-twenties - whether to pursue a career in science or music. Well, he chose the latter, but never forgot the former. It is in fact a tribute to him, and a measure of his great interest in the nature of our Universe, that he recently completed his PhD in astrophysics after putting it to one side for so many years. Fittingly, he performed his original observational work in the Canaries where the University owns and operates one of the world's most sophisticated telescopes. We look forward to sharing some observational work with him in the future, and I think he will be amazed at how our capabilties have advanced over the years."

Of course, we all remember that May was awarded a long-delayed PhD in Astrophysics a little while ago and is co-author of a book on astronomy.

York has already had a musical Chancellor as Oscar Peterson served from 1991 - 1994. Who do you think the best musical Chancellor would be for your institution?

Interview with Sasha Gurke, Sr. Vice President and Co-Founder, Knovel.

Welcome to the latest installment of my occasional series of interviews with people in the scitech world. This time around I'm interviewing Sasha Gurke, Sr. Vice President and Co-Founder, Knovel Corp. I've long been an fan of Knovel's products and appreciated their business model. When I met Rick Spiegel at the ASEE St. Lawrence Chapter conference a few weeks ago while he was demoing some Knovel products, I asked him if there was anyone in Knovel on the product development side that I could interview. Rick put me in touch with Sasha, for which I am grateful. Thanks to Rick for getting us in touch and thanks to Sasha for such a stimulating interview.

Q0. Sasha, please tell us a little about yourself and your career path to this point.

I am a chemist by training but spent last 27 years of my career in technical information, first at Chemical Abstracts Service and then at Knovel and a predecessor company. After helping to found Knovel in 1999, I, as a VP of Product Development, was responsible for creation of Knovel's award-winning product, including the website and the content. Since late 2006, my primary responsibilities shifted to Marketing and Editorial areas. I travel and present a lot now, bringing back feedback from the customers and keeping a hand on the pulse of the industry.

Q1. Could you tell about the Knovel ebook products (present and in the pipeline) and your business model. And what exactly do you guys mean by "Knovelization?"

Knovel is an aggregator of STM reference works, including handbooks and databases, in 19 subject areas ranging from aerospace to oil and gas engineering and from chemistry to food science. We just added a new subject area, Earth Science, covering such topics as Geology, Geotechnical Engineering, Oceanography, and Petrology. Most of our content comes from well-known publishers such as Wiley and Elsevier, although some is developed internally and available exclusively on Knovel. We have an annual subscription model with concurrent user license. Customers can subscribe to the entire Knovel Library or special collections, including premium products and subject areas. We have 3 types of products: full text searchable e-books, databases and interactive e-books with live tables, graphs and equations. Databases and interactive e-books are field searchable and are very popular with our customers because they increase their productivity. They are our main differentiator in the marketplace. The process of making an ordinary e-book interactive and resulting product are unique to Knovel and we called it "Knovelization".

Q2. I'm sure you get this a lot, but what is the delay between a new edition of a print reference being released and its Knovelization?

It depends on the editorial priority and on our publishing partners. Some publishers wait up to 6 months before they make a title available to aggregators. It takes Knovel production folks about a month to load a title with high priority, e.g., those requested by our customers. Knovelized titles require 2-4 months to load because of the work involved.

Q3. Do you have a lot of content that is you have created rather than licensed? Is this an area that's going to grow?

We have 18 titles that we either created ourselves or took a copyright-free publication (often old and out of print) and gave it a second life. Many of these titles are large databases and interactive. Some, such as Unit Converter, are free tools. Currently, we are significantly expanding Knovel Critical Tables. Content creation is going to be a growth area for Knovel in the future.

Q4. Can you foresee a day when the print versions of the books you Knovelize will disappear completely and they will only exist in electronic format? And what will the next generation of Knovel products be like?

It is hard to imagine not having print versions, although, certainly, the trend is toward more content available either in both formats or in electronic format only. The latter is especially true for journals and databases. The next generation of Knovel products will have a more user-friendly interface and more robust search capabilities. We will continue to add value to our content knovelizing it and integrating it with 3rd party software tools and platforms. And, of course, we hope to enable our users to add their own content to Knovel, creating their own e-books from that content and selected content available on Knovel.

Q5. I think that librarians probably see the value in these products fairly quickly. But faculty and corporate scientists and engineers can be difficult to reach sometime so has it been difficult to get uptake on that side of the equation? How do you market to those groups and convince them of the value of your product?

You are right, it has been a challenge getting to the end user and we are not alone in the industry with this experience. Our answer is increasing awareness and explaining the benefits of Knovel to end users via frequent training webinars, interactive demos, a newsletter, and viral marketing, e.g., social networks. We exhibit at many trade shows and work with professional societies such as ASME and AIChE to reach their membership by providing access to some content. An important part of it is integrating Knovel into the work flow. In academia, this is being accomplished by offering Knovel-based course exercises to faculty. In the corporate world, we have an individual user registration program that allows us to "touch" the end users, learn more about their needs and be more responsive and proactive. Excellent customer support also plays an important role.

Q6. What have been some of the challenges so far?

The main challenges have been acquisition of certain high-value content, automation of content management for interactive products, search engine optimization, and uneven usage.

Q7. What do you see as your main competition? Wikipedia and other free stuff on the Web or something else entirely?

Wikipedia is a great general reference source that lacks the depth required in the STM field. Our main competition are publishers themselves. Most STM publishers have e-book sites with full back list and they are becoming more aggressive in pricing and marketing. With federated search becoming more widely adopted and expanding Google Book Search, it will be easier to search across different publishers bypassing aggregators.

Q8. Where do you see the broad field of scientific and technical publishing going in the next 5 to 10 years?

The amount of STM literature will continue to grow unabated, especially in the electronic format. We will see more of it being published in the languages of developing countries such as China. More e-content will be available free, especially in the journal arena, via social networks and Wikipedia-type sites. DRM will become a non-issue. There will be more advertisement driven business models. Librarians will demand perpetual licenses to e-content. Work flow integration of STM content and software tools will become a reality. This is what my crystal ball is saying but it has a crack :)

November 22, 2007

Eludamos: Journal for Computer Game Culture

Via Open Access News, the first issue of a new OA journal on gaming culture.

Their goals are pretty ambitious:

In ELUDAMOS we want to challenge this misconception by celebrating the cultural and economic significance of digital game play in our technological world. We want to discuss digital games not only as recreational medium for digital natives but rather as a driving force which is shaping the future of our society. We see Wikipedia not only as a “free encyclopedia that anyone can edit”, we see it also as a Massively Multiplayer Online Game in which editors compete for the top positions in elaborate high score lists detailing page edit statistics. In this sense digital play is at the core of what French philosopher Pierre Levy called demodynamics, a post-democratic process in which our networked society is increasingly gaining control over the dynamics of its own intellectual progression. It is this evolving cultural significance of digital games and digital game play that we want to capture and explore in ELUDAMOS.

The TOC is a combination of articles, reviews and a conference report.

November 20, 2007

Amazon's new Kindle

The blogosphere is all a-twitter about Amazon's new Kindle ebook reader. I don't have one and wouldn't even think of getting one until it's well under $100 and the ebooks are in the $5 range. Not to mention that it isn't even available in Canada yet. (iPhones too. What's up with that?)

But, I do have a compendium of blogospheric reactions, mostly slightly negative but a few wildly positive, to share:

Update 2007.11.21 with more links:

And more 2007.11.22:

And a few questions:

  • Is the future having a bunch of single purpose devices that are really good at one job or having one multipurpose device that may not be equally good at every task?

  • What if I'd rather spend my money on content rather than content-reading devices? In other words, is a reader worth the 40 books I could have bought with the same amount of money? The people that make and sell the devices certainly think so, but how about the people that make a living off selling content?

  • Is the book industry heading the same way as the music industry? Is the value of the content to the consumer tending towards $0?

November 19, 2007

Sharing, Privacy and Trust in a Networked World

OCLC's newest state of the library world/environmental scan report was published a few months ago: Sharing, Privacy and Trust in a Networked World. This one focuses on the potential roles of social networks for libraries and the implications they might have on our practices and norms.

It's an extremely interesting and provocative report, one that inspires us to move forward with new initiatives while at the same time setting some pretty daunting challenges before us.

The practice of using a social network to establish and enhance relationships based on some common ground—shared interests, related skills, or a common geographic location—is as old as human societies, but social networking has flourished due to the ease of connecting on the Web. This OCLC membership report explores this web of social participation and cooperation on the Internet and how it may impact the library’s role, including:

  • The use of social networking, social media, commercial and library services on the Web
  • How and what users and librarians share on the Web and their attitudes toward related privacy issues
  • Opinions on privacy online
  • Libraries’ current and future roles in social networking

The report is based on a survey (by Harris Interactive on behalf of OCLC) of the general public from six countries—Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States—and of library directors from the U.S. The research provides insights into the values and social-networking habits of library users.

As it happens, I was lucky enough to receive a print copy in the mail a month or so ago without even asking, no doubt with the idea that I'm some sort of opinion leader in these things. Be that as it may, as with most of the free books (and there's not many) that come through here I feel compelled to comment.

In this particular case, I do have some overall ideas about the implications of the report but I'll get to those later. First off, I think I'll tackle some of the statistics that are presented, highlighting what struck me as interesting, surprising or unusual. I'll also comment on some of the interviews with their librarian panel of experts: a good list, rounding up some of the usual suspects but also quite a few voices that were unfamiliar to me.

The sections include the survey responses (sections 1-3), interviews with US library directors (4), libraries and social networking survey responses (5), interviews with the panel of expert librarians (6), report highlights (7) and conclusion (8).


  • Page 1-6: Interesting that 20% of those surveyed had created content online. A bit larger than I would have thought, but if you include flickr, commenting on blogs, etc., not that surprising.

  • 1-20, 21. People are reading more but increasingly online. Exactly what I would have thought. The web is still largely a text medium and reading text will remain an important part of an increasingly diverse online experience.

  • 2-12 to 2-15. Combining the various language/national groups on the reporting of the favourite social networking site is probably not useful. Comparing the raw percentages for Mixi and MySpace is like comparing apples to oranges.

  • 2-17. No surprise. We use the social networks our friends use. It's like hanging out at the same mall that our friends hang out at.

  • 2-38. In the last two years, it seems only a small percentage of people have actually stopped using a particular social networking site after intially joining in the last two years. Somehow I thought that people would be trying out a bunch of different sites and only sticking with the ones they liked or where they discovered most of their friends.

  • 3-6. It seems that most people use the same password on all the sites they inhabit. There is a significant number (16%) that always use different passwords. I use a small number of configurable passwords over and over and find that the best for me. For example, I never have to write a password down anywhere, I can just remember them all.

  • 3-11. Most people are more comfortable showing their true personality in person while a significant minority are more comfortable showing their true personality online. But what does it mean to share your true personality online. Does it mean that the trolls are totally liberated to be the idiots they truly are? Do they feel constrained by civilized society in person? On the other hand, do shy or awkward people find a healthy and constructive freedom to express things online that they don't in person?

  • 3-36 to 3-38. Really interesting numbers here about how people feel about disclosing their personal information to the library and the trade-offs between privacy and personalized services.

  • 4-13. Interesting. Most people join social networks because they are fun or because that's where their friends are. Library directors join them because they are useful; fun and friends come later.

  • 5-3. Although the population expresses a low level of interest in participating in library hosted social networking activities, I'm not too concerned. After all, a small percentage of a large population can be quite a few people. If only 10% of the 55,000+ population of York publishes creative work or contributes to a discussion group, well, that's 5-6000 people.

  • 5-4 to 5-7. Only 10-20% think the library should build social networking sites. We should be learning or information centres. As if there can be no learning or information in social networking sites...

  • Section 6. Lots of interesting commentary here by the panel of librarian experts. Mostly about how libraries have no choice but to engage students in social networks, that if we don't find a role in the 2.0 world we will lose a generation. Also about the conflicts between security and access. Good, thoughtful stuff here, a nice range of opinion, some dissenting voices to what otherwise might have been groupthink.

  • 7-8. Both users and library directors are skeptical about libraries' role in social networks. Not surprising. We're in the middle.

  • 8-2 to 8-3. I like that concept that they mention here, messy participation. Social networks are diverse and chaotic, not interoperable in any meaningful way. But they are also incredibly compelling and engaging, almost as a function of their messiness. Privacy and security are evolving concepts, perhaps even in opposition to the messiness.

  • 8-6 to 8-8. The message? We have a challenge facing us.

The twin challenges we face:

  • My core assumption is that libraries can something compelling to offer our patrons in social network spaces. Unfortunately, any entry into social networks won't be exploiting a need that that our patrons are clamoring for. We'll be ahead of them here, and that's always a challenge. We need to find a way to make the library messier and looser, to encourage participation, to open the doors and engage these new spaces in a way that our patrons will find compelling. There's nothing sadder than an empty social network. We'll need ingenuity and patience, a willingness to try things, a tolerance for failure. The idea nurture a lot of different ideas, some of which grow into successful programs. We'll need a willingness to find partners on our campuses and within our broader communities. We need to work with those partners to build the social spaces that our students will need and use.

  • The second challenge is privacy. We need to reconcile the clean, secure, private library with the web of messy participation and customized services. We've always seen patron privacy as one of our core, bedrock values but we're going to need to think about putting more of the privacy decisions into the hands of our patrons. If we want them to trust us, to open up to our spaces, we going to need to trust them a little bit too. And we'll probably need to make the first move on this one too.

From page vii of the report:
What is it that motivates, even inspires, millions of users to spend hours online, not searching for information, but creating information, building content and establishing online communities? What drives users to not only contribute information, but to contribute "themselves," creating detailed personal profiles on social sites and sharing that information to establish new relationships with hundreds of new virtual friends?

It's the same thing that motivates people to contribute to open sources software projects. It's fun. They (we) enjoy the "work" we do on the web. We find actively contributing and participating more enjoyable than most tv or films or books or newspaper or magazines that are out there so that's what we choose to spend our time on. How do we make contributing to our social spaces that much fun?

So, read the report. Think about it, engage with it very closely and carefully. There's lots of information to digest and ideas to ponder. The path to the future may or may not be in the report but it certainly has a lot of food for thought about one path forward: making libraries socially networked teaching and learning spaces where students can share and discover. Actually, I don't think that strays too far from what we've always seen as our core mission.

(Review copy of report supplied by the publisher)

November 18, 2007

Trees in the city

It seems that about 90% of all the leaves on the trees in my neighbourhood in Toronto have fallen in the last day or two. Due to unseasonably warm fall weather and a very dry summer, the leaves have been very late turning.

Toronto arborist Todd Irvine has posted about the situation on the Spacing Toronto blog. The other day he gave an interview for Global Television from a helicopter and he describes what he saw that day. As well, he posts a bunch of fascinating photos showing the truly marvelous tree cover in Toronto neighbourhoods. A great post about the interface between the natural world and our built up spaces, not just vitally interesting to self-absorbed Torontonians but to everyone interested in the past, present and future of our cities.

The vibrancy of the colours and the time the leaves drop is dictated by temperature, available moisture, and most importantly, shorter days. This year, as a result of the long summer drought, followed by a mild fall with no frost and cool rains, trees are holding their leaves longer. They are doing so partially to take advantage of the unseasonably good growing conditions by storing extra sugars they were unable to during the summer, because of the crippling drought.

One fear is that we will now have a heavy snowfall or ice storm, which is more than likely considering it is mid-November. If leaves are still on the trees and the conditions are just right, snow and ice will stick to them, greatly increasing the weight of each limb, causing some limbs to break. The impact on the urban forest, not to mention the people and property below could be significant —all the more reason to have an ISA certified arborist routinely check the condition of trees on your property and conduct preventive maintenance if required, so they will be much less likely to suffer damage.

Via Easternblot.

November 16, 2007

Update on eBooks and Cool Tools

Everybody's talking about the same things:

  • Collaborating on a data analysis project: students do the math with the Google Docs spreadsheet program is by Sandra Porter on Discovering Biology in a Digital World. The idea is to use the Google Docs Spreadsheets application for a whole class to participate collaboratively is some data analysis.
    Here's what we did:

    1. Before class, I set up the table for data entry.
    2. All my students went to and signed up for a gmail account (if they didn't already have one).
    3. I clicked the Share tab and entered a list of my students' gmail addresses.
    4. Then, I clicked Invite Collaborators to send an e-mail to the students.
    5. The students clicked the link in their e-mail to access the spread-sheet.
    6. They entered their results in the spread sheet, simultaneously, as they worked on identifying their bacteria via blastn. This went on during and between class periods.
    7. Then in the next class, I used the Sort function to sort data, show them what happened, and discuss some of the issues related to data analysis and bioinformatics, for example...

  • Kindling eBooks by Peter Brantley on O'Reilly Radar. It's about the new Amazon Kindling ebook reader. Read the whole thing, it's well worth it.
    I think, on reflection, that the comparison between audio (and video?) and book acquisition is less apt than it might seem at first glance. Given the extant media packaging within each sector, there was innately a higher barrier to the goal of acquisition and use in the music -- compared to the book -- industry, with the possible exception of a few select publishing markets. With growing digital options, the "LP album" as a compilation of tracks quickly became an obviously inefficient, undesirable bundling of content, screaming for disaggregation; perhaps the closest counterpart in the publishing industry, reference works including cookbooks, travel lit, dictionaries, and encyclopedias, have similarly and thoroughly escaped their legacy bounds; in these cases the conversion to print was not merely literal, but transformative.

    In contrast, when one considers long form narratives, whether fiction or non-fiction, there is less of an impetus to migrate from print use except for the possible advantage of portability and more extensive support for visually handicapped readers; on the flip side, there exist some non-trivial barriers (drm, format wars, etc.) to electronic access. Exceptions to this equation tend to be concentrated in areas where consumption modes are inherently mass-market, and where volume exists in transactions; Harlequin may well be the single most successful ebook publisher in the market today. Replicating their striking success through niche markets, or across smaller-impact imprints, is likely to prove difficult.

  • publishing after publishers by ben vershbow on if:book. If everyone is a content creator and can distribute their content with no barriers on the what's a publisher for, again?
    Eisler's right, though, that publishers need to start thinking hard about what they have to offer beyond distribution or else go the way of the dodo. But it won't just be the agents that replace them but a melange of evolved Web impresarios: bloggers, curators, list-server editors, social bookmarkers and other online tastemakers. But writers too will have to change to survive. The digital medium will provide more maneuverability and more potential reach, but less shelter and less of the hand-holding, buffering and insulation from their public that publishers traditionally provided when once upon a time they managed the production and distribution chain. In many cases, writers will have to work harder at being impresarios, developing public personae and maintaining a more direct communication with readers. They'll have to learn how to write all over again.

  • Pearson in Custom Textbook Test by Michael Cairns on PersonaNonData. Aha! Maybe a publisher can help us aggregate all the good stuff from all the little bits and pieces floating around out there.
    Custom publishing has been part of the fabric of academic publishing for many years but this appears to be a twist on an old play. With easier rights clearance via CCC perhaps this program will expand rapidly particularly in disciplines where the content changes frequently due to world events. The Australian equivalent of CCC (CAL) was barnstorming the US a number of years ago selling the concept of an on-line rights clearance and custom publishing solution that enabled the creation of textbooks from multiple sources all with rights appropriately cleared, a index and toc created, pages reformatted and sequential page numbering. It was an interesting proposal which was tried and tested in Australia but didn't get any traction here. Interestingly, CCC didn't take the bait either.

  • Publishing in Real Time: Wrox Stays Current with Near-Time via Wiley's Wrox Press uses wiki for new series of free online books by Peter Suber on Open Access News. And what the heck is a book anyways?
    Wrox Press, like many other digital companies, recognized that there are two main platforms driving the Web 2.0 movement: blogs and wikis. Through the company's new ASP3wiki, publishers can now discuss Beginning Active Server Pages 3.0 in a forum, thus opening up communication and engaging community members. "This is an important relationship and initiative for Wrox because it's our first venture into the world of wikis," says Joe Wikert, VP and executive publisher of Wrox. "Wrox has been firmly built upon community principles, hence our commitment to the extremely popular p2p forum on We believe wikis represent an interesting way for us to encourage and enable even more community participation with our content."

Friday Fun: Cat Search Edition

Female Science Professor is one of my favourite blogs, usually for its keen insight into the culture of academic science departments.

Not usually for its laugh out loud humour.

Having been involved in a few academic search committees (including one at the moment), this post really struck a funny bone: Cat Search.

We evaluated each kitten’s background, their potential for interacting with humans and other felines, and we tried to gauge their potential for creative (but not too creative) behavior. In the end, I must admit that we favored stereotypical kitten behavior over kittens who seemed to be pushing the envelope. The kitten to whom we made an offer (which was instantly accepted) actually looks a lot like some previous members of our cat faculty. We weren’t expecting this, but it somehow just happened, perhaps because we feel most comfortable with this type of cat and weren’t ready to deal with one that was too different from what we are used to.

Introducing a new kitten into a home department dominated by senior felines can be tricky, and can involve some less-than-mature behavior on the part of senior felines, who feel threatened by the energetic addition. Even so, we are looking forward to the energizing effect our newest feline hire will surely have on our older faculty felines. We are reasonably confident that the new kitten will get tenure and have a productive career in our home, even if none of the senior felines has thus far been willing to be his mentor.

November 15, 2007

Software Enabling Technologies for Petascale Science

That's the title of the special issue of CTWatch Quarterly, v3i4. It should be of great interesting to anyone looking at computational science or escience.

A sampling of the table of contents (most of the papers have numerous authors):

A few pointers to CTWatch and other ejournal publishers, from a librarian's point of view:

  • Please make it more obvious where the unique link is for each issue. If each issue is initially set up on the journal home page, which is ok, but when I link to it from a post like this I want easy access to a stable link for that issue.

  • Each article should have a DOI, visible from the table of contents and on each article. The DOIs should be complete and linked where ever they appear, ie. not just the unique part of the DOI but the whole thing.

  • I appreciate that I can print the whole issue in PDF (which I have done for some issues). But, each article should also be printable in PDF. PDF versions just print better than HTML.

  • Every viewable version of the article should have the complete DOI, stable URL and complete bibliographic information clearly visible on the first page. If there are page numbers that are applicable in the printable version of the whole issue, then they should be included in the bibliographic information and on each page of the PDF version of the article.

November 13, 2007

Open Laboratory 2007 - last call for submissions

As Bora reminds us, The 2008 North Carolina Science Blogging Conference is fast approaching. I'll be there as will a bunch of other people, including a pretty decent librarian contingent.

But the purpose of this post is to remind everyone that conference organizer Bora Zivkovic and his collaborator are editing a 2007 edition of Open Laboratory: The Best Writing on Science Blogs which is to coincide with the conference.

As science bloggers and science blog readers we can all contribute to the anthology by nominating posts, either our own or those from other blogs that we read. This post explains all the details. Bora kindly lists all the posts that have been nominated so far; A quick perusal of the list will indicate that I have been hard at work nominating posts from the computer science blogosphere but more work needs to be done. Math and CS are still under represented; there's almost nothing from engineering and nothing yet from scitech librarian blogs. I do plan on self-nominating some posts, probably a couple of the least librarian-y of the interviews. Don't be shy! Give your favourite posts a chance to shine.

The submission for is here.

Update 2007.11.15: Bora profiles a couple of NIH librarians attending the conference.

Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication on Social Network Sites

Via BoingBoing, a cornucopia of interesting articles from a special issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication on Social Network Sites, edited by danah boyd and Nicole Ellison.

Eighteen articles in total, so I'll only list a few.

Oddly (ironically), you can't seem to be able to comment on the articles.

November 11, 2007

Comment moderation turned off

I've been getting very few spam comments recently and a lot more real comments. So I've decided to try a little while without moderation and see how it goes. Also, the comment notification emails are working again after quite a while where they didn't so I actually know when people comment without relying on the moderation notices.

Let's all enjoy our new freedom and comment away!

November 10, 2007

Intelligent Design on Trial Preview

Here's a quick video preview of the upcoming PBS show Nova: Intelligent Design on Trial. It's a documentary about the Dover, PA trial from a couple of years ago.

The show looks extremely interesting. I can't wait to catch it. It starts airing on November 13th. Via Greg Laden's Blog.

Cool Tools for Scholars: The Presentation

A couple of weeks ago I asked for some help in constructing a Brown Bag Presentation on Cool Tools for Scholars.

Well, I finally gave the presentation this past Thursday. The slides are here.

The presentation went pretty well, if a little sparsely attended. Unfortunately, I was scheduled right after a planning meeting which went a little long. However, the session was pretty lively with lots of questions and discussion. I think the cool tools that were the best received were Google Docs and Zotero.

I really enjoyed giving the presentation and I hope I'll get a chance to repeat it sometime.

November 9, 2007

Friday Fun: Existential Crisis Edition

I had some other plans for Friday Fun today. Monopoly and searching for cats are just going to have to wait for another week or two.

So who the heck is the Annoyed Librarian? An who is Meredith Farkas? Who am I? Who are you? Who is anybody?

I am very, very confused.

PS to MF & AL: Couldn't you guys (guy?) have waited until April 1st to screw with our heads like this?

November 8, 2007

Best Science Books 2007: Amazon

The Amazon Editors have a few nice Top 10 lists this year. Taken together the lists have an extraordinary selection of interesting books. If I had to choose one fromthe list that I haven't read yet that I would like, it would have to be Andy Oram's Beautiful Code.


  • The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West, and the Fight Against AIDS by Helen Epstein
  • Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson
  • The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature by Steven Pinker
  • The Snoring Bird: My Family's Journey Through a Century of Biology by Bernd Heinrich
  • I Am a Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter
  • The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge
  • Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer
  • The Last Human: A Guide to Twenty-Two Species of Extinct Humans by G. J. Sawyer
  • The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier
  • Luminous Fish: Tales of Science and Love by Lynn Margulis

Computers & Internet (selected)

  • Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott
  • Rule the Web: How to Do Anything and Everything on the Internet---Better, Faster, Easier by Mark Frauenfelder
  • Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder by David Weinberger
  • Devices of the Soul: Battling for Our Selves in an Age of Machines by Steve Talbott
  • Beautiful Code: Leading Programmers Explain How They Think by Andy Oram

Health, Mind & Body (selected)

  • Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande
  • How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman
  • Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks
  • Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's by John Elder Robison
  • Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes

November 7, 2007

Ebook Business Models

This is a topic I've been thinking about a lot recently, as we (at York and as a profession) start to move in a coordinated way to making ebooks an important part of our collections. What's the best way to acquire ebooks? How should we pay for them? What should our access models be?

Note to ebook vendors: in the end, I want your products. I think that it is practically inevitable that we will be moving to an online-only model for most of our book purchases over the next decade or so. But, I need you to listen to me (and all my colleagues) and learn what works for us not just what is easy to monitize for you.

And there are vendors with business models I like: Morgan & Claypool, Safari and Knovel to name just a few.

Now, this post is mostly about where I would like to see things going in the near future. I'm going to make some more sweeping long term wishes at the end, but right now I'm concerned with the next few years and months and how I would like to see vendors constructive their offerings.

Some thoughts:

  • Collections, annual license. Title by title, one time only. I'm mostly ok with that model.

  • Big collections need to be really cost effective. Basically, you want to suck up my entire mono purchasing budget by locking into a huge annual licensing fee for a huge collection of ebooks. This doesn't work for me. It may be easy but it's not cost effective because it's really restricting me from purchasing stuff from other publishers that might be more appropriate for my niche programs.

  • Hello? You already sold me that in print. Charging the same amount for an ebook as for a print book on a title by title basis is crazy. And wrong. Let me benefit from the fact that you still cover your costs for production via selling me the overpriced print. Don't sell me the same item again at the same inflated price. Give me prices based on print only, online only and both. Both should be about 125% of print. Online only should be about 50-75% of print.

  • And don't try and resell all me your old crap either. A lot of collections inflate their title counts with a lot of old content. Yeah, I know, getting money for those is gravy for you. For us, paying for those titles again is a crime. Either don't include them (my choice) or make it very clear in your pricing scheme that I'm not paying much (if anything) for them. Ten to fifteen year old IT or engineering books are often of limited use. But you know that, right?

  • It's not necessarily "The more the merrier." I don't need 800 HTML books in my IT ebook collection. I need good and up to date information on HTML, which I don't measure by title count. Don't try and pretend having 800 makes your collection better. All those books just clutter search results both in our catalogue and in your interfaces.

  • Let me unbundle. It's my job to choose the right stuff for the needs of my users. If I'm a small school or supporting niche programs I need to be able to break down big collections into smaller collections to make it cost effective. And by smaller, I don't mean ones that will still cost me 10s of thousands of dollars.

  • Let me choose. I don't mind choosing title by title. After all, it's what I do for print books anyways. This is the logical extension of unbundling. I will commit to spending the time if you give me the flexibility and make it cost-effective for me.

  • Let me replace. Out with the old and in with the new. In a lot of subjects, having ebook versions of multiple editions of a work just clutter up the search results with hits. I don't need them and let me expunge them from the collections. I do the same thing with the old print books, by the way. It's called weeding.

  • Ebooks aren't print books. A bit about the future. Most vendors' models right now is basically to move print books into the online environment with little or no change or enhancement. But ultimately we need to recognize electronic texts aren't print text. They are used differently, discovered differently and should be constructed differently. Like I said above, I don't need 800 HTML books. What I need is one good source of information on HTML that covers everything.

    This is what an scitech ebook can be, a good source of information on a topic. Up to date, reviewing the literature, covering a topic comprehensively at multiple skill and knowledge levels, annotatable, sharable, copy and paste-able, blogable, citable, authoritative yet responsive and mashupable. We need to reimagine the scholarly monograph in the scitech fields, to find a business model that works, that rewards creators and meets the needs of readers. If it's something I'm going to pay for it needs to be better and easier to use than the free web, although I'm not sure I yet understand how I would evaluate that. Certainly, there has to be a compelling reason that students and researchers would use it rather than the free web, and I'm not sure what the range of those compelling reasons is yet either.

Add your own in the comments! I'm sure we all have thinking about ebooks and have ideas to share about making ebook business models fair and sustainable.

November 5, 2007

Best Science Books 2007: Publisher's Weekly

Since the posts I did last year about 2006's best science books proved to be so popular, I'll do it again this year. Every time I see a list of best books I'll extract the science-y ones and highlight them here.

This time around (and the first in what will likely be a flood of year's best lists) is Publisher's Weekly's list:

  • How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman
  • The Atomic Bazaar: The Rise of the Nuclear Poor by William Langewiesche
  • Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle over Global Warming by Chris Mooney
  • Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race by Richard Rhodes
  • Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain by Maryanne Wolf

And, in the list of breakout books, one that isn't really a scitech book but that seems geeky enough to be of interest to the science crowd:
  • Kings of New York: A Year Among the Geeks, Oddballs, and Geniuses Who Make Up America's Top High School Chess Team by Michael Weinreb

I haven't read any of these books yet but pretty well all of them look very interesting so I'm sure I'll be getting around to them in their paperback editions.

November 2, 2007

STIX fonts project goes beta

Via Nascent, the STIX project to create a set of scitech web fonts has gone into beta release. You can download the fonts here.

This project was set into motion ACS, AMS, APS, Elsevier, IEEE and their technical partner MicroPress, Inc. I can't wait to play around with the font and see what's available.

Friday Fun: Bookstore Tourism Edition

Now this is my idea of a good time!

The grassroots Bookstore Tourism movement
celebrates and sustains independent bookstores
by organizing group "road trips" to cities and towns
with great bookshops, literary sites and libraries.

I love visiting new and cool independent bookstores whenever I'm in a new city, especially used bookstores because they're the ones that are especially full of unexpected treasures!

A little known fact about me is that I collect bookmarks from bookstores that I visit in my travels. I love bookmarks and make it a point to pick some up where ever I can; and I really prefer free promo bookmarks to the ones you buy at shops and such. The only exception, of course, are bookmarks that you can get at museums or other places that celebrate and commemorate the visit to that place. I have hundreds of them at home! Another cool bookmark happening for me is when I find an old bookmark in a book that I buy at a used bookstore. The older the better.

November 1, 2007

Peter Suber interview & profile

And here I was hoping to interview Peter Suber some day for my series...but I don't think there are any questions left!

It's a great profile and interview by Richard Poynder on the Open and Shut? blog.

At the heart of Suber's ability to unite the movement is a commitment to what he calls "the big tent" — a tent from which no faction of the open access movement is excluded, and in which all shades of opinion are welcomed. His blog covers points of view he does not personally accept, but he gives them space to make their case before offering his own constructive, critical comments.

In his own analytic pieces, Suber often argues that the movement will make faster progress by harnessing differences than by quarrelling about them, but he does not hesitate to criticise ideas he believes are incorrect or untenable, even from allies. He achieves the difficult balance of being inclusive but not woolly-minded or indecisive.

The complete transcript of Poynder's coversations with Suber are here. Like I said, there is no Suber-stone left unturned in the 70 page interview transcript.