October 31, 2008

Books I'd like to read

Some more interesting-looking books for your reading and collection development pleasure. Apologies for such a long list, but I wanted to clear out all the stuff that's been accumulating for a while.

Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business
by Jeff Howe

Jeff Howe delves into both the positive and negative consequences of this intriguing phenomenon. Through extensive reporting from the front lines of this revolution, he employs a brilliant array of stories to look at the economic, cultural, business, and political implications of crowdsourcing. How were a bunch of part-time dabblers in finance able to help an investment company consistently beat the market? Why does Procter & Gamble repeatedly call on enthusiastic amateurs to solve scientific and technical challenges? How can companies as diverse as iStockphoto and Threadless employ just a handful of people, yet generate millions of dollars in revenue every year? The answers lie within these pages.

The blueprint for crowdsourcing originated from a handful of computer programmers who showed that a community of like-minded peers could create better products than a corporate behemoth like Microsoft. Jeff Howe tracks the amazing migration of this new model of production, showing the potential of the Internet to create human networks that can divvy up and make quick work of otherwise overwhelming tasks. One of the most intriguing ideas of Crowdsourcing is that the knowledge to solve intractable problems—a cure for cancer, for instance—may already exist within the warp and weave of this infinite and, as yet, largely untapped resource. But first, Howe proposes, we need to banish preconceived notions of how such problems are solved.

Reinventing Knowledge: From Alexandria to the Internet by Ian F. McNeely, Lisa Wolverton
Here is an intellectual entertainment, a sweeping history of the key institutions that have organized knowledge in the West from the classical period onward. With elegance and wit, this exhilarating history alights at the pivotal points of cultural transformation. The motivating question throughout: How does history help us understand the vast changes we are now experiencing in the landscape of knowledge?

Beginning in Alexandria and its great center of Hellenistic learning and imperial power, we then see the monastery in the wilderness of a collapsed civilization, the rambunctious universities of the late medieval cities, and the thick social networks of the Enlightenment republic of letters. The development of science and the laboratory as a dominant knowledge institution brings us to the present, seeking patterns in the new digital networks of knowledge.

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre (Import edition via Amazon US)
How do we know if a treatment works, or if something causes cancer? Can the claims of homeopaths ever be as true – or as interesting as the improbable research into the placebo effect? Who created the MMR hoax? Do journalists understand science? Why do we seek scientific explanations for social, personal and political problems? Are alternative therapists and the pharmaceutical companies really so different, or do they just use the same old tricks to sell different types of pill? We are obsessed with our health. And yet – from the media’s ‘world-expert microbiologist’ with a mail-order PhD in his garden shed laboratory, via multiple health scares and miracle cures, to the million pound trial that Durham Council now denies ever existed – we are constantly bombarded with inaccurate, contradictory and sometimes even misleading information. Until now. Ben Goldacre masterfully dismantles the dodgy science behind some of the great drug trials, court cases and missed opportunities of our time, but he also goes further: out of the bulls---, he shows us the fascinating story of how we know what we know, and gives us the tools to uncover bad science for ourselves.

The Websters’ Dictionary: How to Use the Web to Transform the World by Ralph Benko (Via Lessig Blog.)
The Websters' Dictionary examines the work of people and groups that reach millions online. In clear and simple terms, it shows you how it's done. Download a free eCopy of the complete work here by taking the Websters' Oath.

This also will sign you up for breaking news of the Web advocacy sector. (You can safely and completely unsubscribe with a click. There's no obligation -- except to use your powers only for Good.) And join the Websters' Bar and Grill, a social network for web-advocates, to hang out with other Websters and get the latest gossip. (No cover charge.)

The Websters' Dictionary lays it out from the basic to the sophisticated. How to get a domain name? What domain name to pick or to avoid? How do you create a great website or select someone to do it for you? How to harness the power of Web 2.0. (In fact, what the heck is Web 2.0?) What style gives you impact? What content works? How much should you spend? What kind of team do you need? It lays out best practices briefly, clearly, picturesquely, and above all accurately.

This is the dawning of the Age of the Internet. Be part of that. Become a Webster -- an activist, an operative, or a wonk who is using the Web to transform the world.

The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind
by by James Boyle
In this enlightening book James Boyle describes what he calls the range wars of the information age—today’s heated battles over intellectual property. Boyle argues that just as every informed citizen needs to know at least something about the environment or civil rights, every citizen should also understand intellectual property law. Why? Because intellectual property rights mark out the ground rules of the information society, and today’s policies are unbalanced, unsupported by evidence, and often detrimental to cultural access, free speech, digital creativity, and scientific innovation.

Boyle identifies as a major problem the widespread failure to understand the importance of the public domain—the realm of material that everyone is free to use and share without permission or fee. The public domain is as vital to innovation and culture as the realm of material protected by intellectual property rights, he asserts, and he calls for a movement akin to the environmental movement to preserve it. With a clear analysis of issues ranging from Jefferson’s philosophy of innovation to musical sampling, synthetic biology and Internet file sharing, this timely book brings a positive new perspective to important cultural and legal debates. If we continue to enclose the “commons of the mind,” Boyle argues, we will all be the poorer.

Click: What Millions of People Are Doing Online and Why it Matters by Bill Tancer
What time of year do teenage girls search for prom dresses online? How does the quick adoption of technology affect business success (and how is that related to corn farmers in Iowa)? How do time and money affect the gender of visitors to online dating sites? And how is the Internet itself affecting the way we experience the world? In Click, Bill Tancer takes us behind the scenes into the massive database of online intelligence to reveal the naked truth about how we use the Web, navigate to sites, and search for information--and what all of that says about who we are.

As online directories replace the yellow pages, search engines replace traditional research, and news sites replace newsprint, we are in an age in which we've come to rely tremendously on the Internet--leaving behind a trail of information about ourselves as a culture and the direction in which we are headed. With surprising and practical insight, Tancer demonstrates how the Internet is changing the way we absorb information and how understanding that change can be used to our advantage in business and in life. Click analyzes the new generation of consumerism in a way no other book has before, showing how we use the Internet, and how those trends provide a wealth of market research nearly as vast as the Internet itself. Understanding how we change is integral to our success. After all, we are what we click.

Friday Fun: Anand Wins!

Just to complete the story I've been telling over the last couple of weeks, Viswanathan Anand of India did hold on to retain his World Chess Championship title this past week by drawing game 11 in his match with challenger Vladimir Kramnik.

Definitely, all congratulations in the world to Anand who is a deserving challenger. To quote Garry Kasparov on the Daily Dirt blog:

It was a very well-played match by Vishy. Except for the loss of concentration in the 10th game, he played consistently and managed to enforce his style. His choice to open with 1.d4 was excellent. He reached playable positions with life in them so he could make Kramnik work at the board. Anand outprepared Kramnik completely. In this way it reminded me of my match with Kramnik in London 2000. Like I was then, Kramnik may have been very well prepared for this match but we never saw it. I didn't expect the Berlin and ended up fighting on Kramnik's preferred terrain.


A great result for Anand and for chess. Vishy deserved the win in every way and I'm very happy for him. It will not be easy for the younger generation to push him aside.

October 29, 2008

The Google Books Search deal: A real game-changer

Take a gander over at the Official Google Blog for an announcement of the settlement of the court case between Google and various publishers over the Google Books Search service.

While we've made tremendous progress with Book Search, today we've announced an agreement with a broad class of authors and publishers and with our library partners that advances Larry's and Sergey's original dream in ways Google never could have done alone.

This agreement is truly groundbreaking in three ways. First, it will give readers digital access to millions of in-copyright books; second, it will create a new market for authors and publishers to sell their works; and third, it will further the efforts of our library partners to preserve and maintain their collections while making books more accessible to students, readers and academic researchers.

I encourage you to read the post as well as the text of an page on the Future of Google Books Search where the true game-changing nature of the deal becomes glaringly apparent. I'll quote the part on Accessing Books:
Accessing books

This agreement will create new options for reading entire books (which is, after all, what books are there for).

  • Online access

    Once this agreement has been approved, you'll be able to purchase full online access to millions of books. This means you can read an entire book from any Internet-connected computer, simply by logging in to your Book Search account, and it will remain on your electronic bookshelf, so you can come back and access it whenever you want in the future.

  • Library and university access

    We'll also be offering libraries, universities and other organizations the ability to purchase institutional subscriptions, which will give users access to the complete text of millions of titles while compensating authors and publishers for the service. Students and researchers will have access to an electronic library that combines the collections from many of the top universities across the country. Public and university libraries in the U.S. will also be able to offer terminals where readers can access the full text of millions of out-of-print books for free.

  • Buying or borrowing actual books

    Finally, if the book you want is available in a bookstore or nearby library, we'll continue to point you to those resources, as we've always done.

Wow. People will be able to buy online versions of books on GBS. Libraries will be able to license all the content on GBS. Millions of books in all disciplines and from all time periods.

I can't wait to see details on this, especially if there will be some sort of DRM, how printing will work, whether or not you'll be able to download to readers such as the Kindle. Of course, it will be really interesting to see what a site license for a large university will cost. Will it be the equivalent of our entire monograph budget? The implications and the choices that would imply are staggering. Talk about a rock and a hard place. This has the potential to completely transform the ebook business and the way libraries buy books. The traditional players in the ebook business will have to really focus on seriously adding value to their offerings, the way A&I services have to add more value in the face of Google Scholar. Libraries will be faced with a lot of choices, especially in the face of fears of putting all our eggs in one basket.

Of course, I also have to blow my own horn here a bit. Way back, almost exactly three years ago, when GBS was still called Google Print, this is what I wrote in one of the entries in the My Job in 10 Years series, with emphasis added:
It's already happening: the New York Times, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, all the JSTOR journals, Google Print. In 10 years, these will be the hot commodities in our libraries, all the stuff that the students are so frustrated that they can't find online. Why not all the Canadian newspapers back to the first issue? Why not all the books in Google Print full text searchable (and readable, for a fee). Who doesn't want to license the full text version of Google Print when it's finished -- and it should have made some pretty good progress in 10 years.

Of course, GBS isn't finished, and in a sense will never be finished. We live in interesting times.

October 27, 2008

Why Academics Should Blog

One of the interesting things about FriendFeed is that it's really reduced the number of "hey, cool link here" blog posts that I do. Those just go to my lifestream and whoever is following me on FriendFeed can see it. Similarly, those cool link blog posts that many other people might have posted I'm now seeing on FF.

But occasionally, I do still see a link cool and interesting enough to warrant a full-fledged blog post. Also interestingly, I saw the link first on Jambina's feed (ie. Amy Buckland).

That post is Why Academics Should Blog by Hugh McGuire.

The list of 9 items is spot on:

  1. You need to improve your writing
  2. Some of your ideas are dumb
  3. The point of academia is to expand knowledge
  4. Blogging expands your readership
  5. Blogging protects and promotes your ideas
  6. Blogging is Reputation
  7. Linking is better than footnotes
  8. Journals and blogs can (and should) coexist
  9. What have journals done for you lately?

Fuller explanations are on the original post and are absolutely well worth reading in full.

What I love about the list is that it so perfectly captures the full range of reasons for academics to blog. And not just academics and academic librarians -- I would say that the reasons more-or-less apply just as much to any knowledge worker or professional, librarians and library school students included, where the idea is to both share what we know and to build our professional reputations.

In other words, there are both altruistic and selfish reasons to blog, free and open expression benefits both the blogger and the larger social/professional/academic context in which she or he blogs.

Oh yeah, a taste. I really like number 9.
9. What have journals done for you lately?
Journals define your reputation, and don’t pay anything. That’s like blogging. They are exorbitantly expensive, have abusive and restrictive copyright terms, and are not available online to the general public. You can’t link to them, and often you can’t find them. That’s unlike blogging. Journals should all be open access and free online (as newspapers have come to be), and you should tell them that, and choose to publish in open access journals whenever you can. It’s good for knowledge, and you are in the knowledge business. You should support whatever is good for knowledge.

October 24, 2008

Friday Fun: Update on the World Chess Championship

Wow. If I had had to chose any possible outcome for the first 7 games (of 12), one of the least likely would have been that champ Viswanathan Anand would jump out to a 5-2 lead over challenger Vladimir Kramnik. But that's what's happening. Anand needs just 1.5 points over the next 5 games to win the match. While it's not impossible that Kramnik could pull off that kind of comeback, I would be quite surprised if it happened.

Today is game 8, a make-or-break game for Kramnik as white. He pretty well has to win to keep his hopes alive.

Great coverage at ChessNinja, Chessbase and EvolutionBlog.

In any case: official home page, Wikipedia page on the match, live game viewer.

October 23, 2008

Books I'd like to read

It's been another little while since I've done one of these lists, so here goes, a two part massive list for your reading and collection development pleasure. Part One today with Part Two I hope next week.

Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World by Don Tapscott

The Net Generation Has Arrived.
Are you ready for it?

Chances are you know a person between the ages of 11 and 30. You've seen them doing five things at once: texting friends, downloading music, uploading videos, watching a movie on a two-inch screen, and doing who-knows-what on Facebook or MySpace. They're the first generation to have literally grown up digital--and they're part of a global cultural phenomenon that's here to stay.

The bottom line is this: If you understand the Net Generation, you will understand the future.

If you're a Baby Boomer or Gen-Xer: This is your field guide.

Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns by Clayton M. Christensen, Curtis W. Johnson, Michael B. Horn
According to recent studies in neuroscience, the way we learn doesn't always match up with the way we are taught. If we hope to stay competitive-academically, economically, and technologically-we need to rethink our understanding of intelligence, reevaluate our educational system, and reinvigorate our commitment to learning. In other words, we need “disruptive innovation.”

Now, in his long-awaited new book, Clayton M. Christensen and coauthors Michael B. Horn and Curtis W. Johnson take one of the most important issues of our time-education-and apply Christensen's now-famous theories of “disruptive” change using a wide range of real-life examples. Whether you're a school administrator, government official, business leader, parent, teacher, or entrepreneur, you'll discover surprising new ideas, outside-the-box strategies, and straight-A success stories.

Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy by Lawrence Lessig
Criminalizing our children and others is exactly what our society should not do, and Lessig shows how we can and must end this conflict—a war as ill conceived and unwinnable as the war on drugs. By embracing “read-write culture,” which allows its users to create art as readily as they consume it, we can ensure that creators get the support—artistic, commercial, and ethical—that they deserve and need. Indeed, we can already see glimmers of a new hybrid economy that combines the profit motives of traditional business with the “sharing economy” evident in such Web sites as Wikipedia and YouTube. The hybrid economy will become ever more prominent in every creative realm—from news to music—and Lessig shows how we can and should use it to benefit those who make and consume culture.

Remix is an urgent, eloquent plea to end a war that harms our children and other intrepid creative users of new technologies. It also offers an inspiring vision of the post-war world where enormous opportunities await those who view art as a resource to be shared openly rather than a commodity to be hoarded.

Planet Google: One Company's Audacious Plan To Organize Everything We Know by Randall Stross
Based on unprecedented access he received to the highly secretive "Googleplex," acclaimed New York Times columnist Randall Stross takes readers deep inside Google, the most important, most innovative, and most ambitious company of the Internet Age. His revelations demystify the strategy behind the company's recent flurry of bold moves, all driven by the pursuit of a business plan unlike any other: to become the indispensable gatekeeper of all the world's information, the one-stop destination for all our information needs. Will Google succeed? And what are the implications of a single company commanding so much information and knowing so much about us?

Experimental Heart: A Novel
by Jennifer L. Rohn
During his many long nights in the lab, scientist Andy O'Hara has plenty of time to wonder about the mysterious and beautiful Gina, first glimpsed in a lit window across the courtyard. He doesn't realize she is consumed by her vaccine research, concerned about her biotech company's financial problems, and about to become the prime target of animal rights activists. She is also distracted by a charming pharmaceutical mogul who offers funding for her work and a glamorous escape from her past mistakes.

When Andy finally meets Gina, his monotonous life starts to unravel. Soon he becomes embroiled in an increasingly complex web of deception as he scrambles to discover his rival's true intentions. When Gina abruptly disappears, Andy sets off to find her. But is it too late? Is there a more sinister reason behind Gina's involvement with the company? Is Gina's vaccine all it appears to be? And is Andy ready to acknowledge that there is more to life than work?

A few of these are fairly typical business-oriented hype-fests so it should be interesting to see how they stack up to a reality-based approach. I can't wait to read them. I also look forward to the lablit novel Experimental Heart by LabLit-site pioneer Jennifer Rohn. Published by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, no less.

October 20, 2008

Workshop: Web 2.0 for Scientists

This is a kind of follow up to a couple of posts from last year about the Cool Tools for Scholars workshop I did for my librarian colleagues here at York.

Since that workshop was relatively well received, I'm reprising it this year in two parts for the larger science faculty and grad student community: one part being Web 2.0 for Scientists and the second, Cool Tools for Scholars. I'm hosting the presentation notes on my IL blog here. My intention is to see what the audience of a particular session wants to cover and go from there, roughly dividing the two sessions by stages in the research process. As you can see from the notes, there's a lot of things to talk about!

I'm hoping that hosting fairly bare-bones presentation notes on the blog will make the sessions more flexible and interactive as well as making the notes easier to find and share with a broader audience. I'm also hoping that they would be reusable by others doing similar presentation.

So, my request for the librarians and scientists out there: What do you think? Are there things that aren't there that should be? Would you organize the sessions differently? The descriptive text for the individual tools will continue to evolve, but what would you do differently there as well?

And for the scientists (ie. faculty, researchers, grad students, post docs, etc.), what could I do marketing-wise to get you interested in actually coming to the library so such a session?

(That last bit reminds me of a short I had with conversation with Timo Hannay at the Science in the 21st Century conference: as a librarian I'm definitely interested in helping them get uptake for tools like Connotea but I'm not sure, short of wandering around departments waving my arms yelling "Connotea!" how to get the time and attention of the scientists to show them the tools. He agreed that it's a problem.)

October 17, 2008

Friday Fun: World Chess Championship

Yes, it has begun!

The 12 game epic clash between reigning champ Viswanathan Anand and challenger Vladimir Kramik started this past Tuesday in Bonn Germany: official home page, Wikipedia page on the match, live game viewer.

Currently, the score is 2-1 Anand, with Anand winning is pretty dramatic fashion today in game 3 with black. Winning a game with black against someone like Kramnik is quite the accomplishment and will certainly put a lot of pressure on the normally solid Kramnik to open up his game.

Personally, I'd be happy to see Anand retain as he's a class act over all and one of the all-time greats. I'd be somewhat disappointed if Kramnik wins as I always tend to prefer the more dynamic Anand vs. the solid, slightly dull style of Kramnik, but I have nothing against the man personally and would be ok if he won.

There's great coverage at ChessNinja, TWIC and Chessbase. Jason Rosenhouse at EvolutionBlog is also posting on the match.

October 14, 2008

Open Access Day: OA & me

Today is Open Access Day, a day we should think about the economic implications of the way the scholarly communications system is set up, in particular, think about ways it could be fairer, more open and more transparent.

It seems that there's some sort of blogging competition. Now, my musings here aren't going to be as eloquent as Dorothea Salo or John Wilbanks or as angry as Neil Saunders but I do hope they can contribute something.

Why does Open Access matter to you?

Open Access matters to me because I think it's important for the fruits of scholarship to be as widely accessible as possible. It is only through the widest availability that the state of the art will be examined, tested and pushed further.

I believe that this applies equally to all scholarly fields, not just the sciences.

I understand that Open Access is about scholarship being free to the reader and acknowledge that there are costs to the publisher or producer that need to be picked up somewhere.

I also understand that Open Access isn't about abolishing or damaging peer review, although many of the same forces that are changing publishing will also have an impact on how peer review is done.

I believe that publishers and librarians are essentially on the same side in all of this. We both want to get the highest quality materials to scholars. Librarians, publishers and scholars can and should work together to build sustainable business models for scholarly publishing that include the materials being free to all readers.

How did you first become aware of it?
Frankly, I haven't got a clue. Searching the archives of the blog tells me that the first mention of "open access" is in May 2003 and that I mention the Open Archives Initiative in October 2002, around the same time I started the blog. So, I've known about OA at least as long as I've been blogging, and probably longer.

Why should scientific and medical research be an open-access resource for the world?
Two main reasons.
STEM researchers need access to the literature to advance their work. Anything that hinders that access will hinder advancement. Toll access publishing restricts access to the literature, giving an unfair advantage to scholars working in wealthier institutions and societies. In fact, virtually no institution will be wealthy enough to acquire everything it's scholars could want. Toll access also restricts access to scholarship to scholars or potential scholars who don't belong to any higher educational or research institution, such as independent researchers or high school students and teachers.

A growth area in scientific research will involve text mining of articles by computer to try and use algorithms to extract knowledge from that literature. This will be much easier if the articles are open.

What do you do to support Open Access, and what can others do?
Although I'm not a big article writer, I do prefer to publish in OA journals. And when the journals aren't OA, I'll definitely post in York's IR. As for supporting OA, I post about it here advocating OA. In my interview series on scholarly communications issues I make sure to ask library and publishing people what they think of OA and where they see scholarly publishing business models evolving over time. I've also advocated for OA here in my institution and with publishers as part of various library advisory groups.

What can others do? Well, one important group is faculty. At the end of the day, established faculty and scholars set the stage and provide leadership and create the incentive framework for junior faculty. Junior faculty and grad students value what their bosses value and libraries will continue to direct resources to support things that are important to faculty.

What can publishers do? Continue to experiment with OA business models. And that applies for scholarly and professional societies as much as the big commercial publishers. If I had a gazillion dollars, I would give it to societies to support them converting to open access.

You can catch up with the goings on for the day in the Open Access Day FriendFeed Room. Not surprisingly, Bora Zivkovic is keeping track of all the blog posts.

A busy day in the world

As it happens, October 14th is a pretty busy day in the world:

  1. The Canadian Federal Election.

  2. Open Access Day (on FriendFeed). I do plan on doing a blog posting a bit later on today.

  3. Round 1 of the World Chess Championship match between Vladimir Kramnik and reigning champ Viswanathan Anand.

Personally, I also have three meetings/events at work today that are all happening simultaneously, so that should be a treat.

October 12, 2008

Catching up on reviewing science books

A few books that I've read in 2008 that haven't quite made it into their own reviews:

Gawande, Atul. Complications: A surgeon's notes on an imperfect science. New York: Picador, 2003. 288pp.

This is a very fine book that I recommend without hesitation. Gawande has to be one of the absolute best popular writers about medicine of all time. This book is a collection of essays that were published in other places, mostly The New Yorker. The theme of the first section of the book is the fallibility of doctors, how they need to learn about their craft by basically practicing on us, and the ethical and practical dilemmas that all of us face because of this simple facts. We all want to be operated on by the most experienced surgeons, of course. But how did those surgeons get experienced in the first place? The rest of the book more or less picks up on those themes as it covers some medical mysteries and some things that the medical profession doesn't really understand yet.

This is a must-have for any academic or public library and I can imagine medical libraries building whole exhibits and and other collection focus activities around the work of Atul Gawande.

Shermer, Michael. Why Darwin matters: The case against Intelligent Design. New York: Holt, 2007. 199pp.

Another very fine book. Noted sceptic Michael Shermer basically demolishes the Intelligent Design and creationist paradigms from start to finish, but he also does it in a rather ecumenical way, taking care not to burn bridges or overly offend. You can get an idea of what he covers from the chapter titles: The Facts of Evolution, Why People Do Not Accept Evolution, In Search of the Designer, Debating Intelligent Design, Science Under Attack, The Real Agenda, Why Science Cannot Contradict Religion, Why Christians and Conservatives Should Accept Evolution and The Real Unsolved Problems in Evolution.

Shermer also weaves in his own personal story about how he evolved from being a Christian creationist himself to his current position supporting evolution, as well as his experiences at the Dover trial.

A solid, informative book, even if it's occasionally marred by Shermer's own descents into theistic gobblydegook, such as on page 43, "If we think of God as a thing, a being that exists in space and time, it constrains God to our world, a world of other things and other beings that are also constrained by the laws of nature and the contingencies of chance. But if God is the maker of all things and all beings visible and invisible in heaven and earth, God must be above such constraints: that is, above the laws of nature and contingencies of chance." A good rationalization for believers, I guess, but it does undermine some of his other arguments.

Overall, I'd recommend this book to most public libraries and any academic library that collects popular science.

I would like to close with another quote, from page 161.

Darwin Matters because evolution matters. Evolution matters because science matters. Science matters because it is the preeminent story of our age, an epic saga about who we are, where we came from and where we are going.

Angier, Natalie. The canon: A whirligig tour of the beautiful basics of science. New York: Mariner, 2008. 293pp.

Natalie Angier is a well-known science writer for the New York Times and in this book has produced a very fine explanation of what science is all about. She also covers an awful lot of territory giving an overview of the current state of the art in various of the scientific fields.

But the most important contribution of the book is the first few chapters where she basically gives an layperson's introduction to the philosophy of science. She talks about the scientific method, the role of probability in science and the role of measurement, all very important topics in understanding what science is. I think it's important to mention that her approach is in sharp contrast to Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, which tended to use a more historical narrative, concentrating on the eccentricities of the various scientists he profiled to give colour. Bryson really didn't discuss any philosophy or have any extensive discussion of the scientific method, to the book's great detriment I believe. Angier seems to have learned from Bryson's mistakes, both in giving that philosophical and mathematical underpinning as well as not portraying scientists as freaks and weirdos.

The rest of the book is given over to a quick overview of physics, chemistry, evolutionary and molecular biology, geology and astronomy. It's quite dense and perhaps potentially a bit dry, but she mostly avoids that with a lively sense of humour sprinkled with quite a bit of flashy wordplay. This aspect of the book came under a fair bit of criticism from other reviewers, but I think it works quite well. Granted, she does goes overboard on occasion -- sometimes it seems that every paragraph needs to end with a little zinger.

Did I learn anything? Yes, I did. Quite a bit really. On the frivolous front, it seems that Angier and I share the same passion for collecting bookmarks. Who knew?

I would recommend this book to any academic or public library. Even high school or middle school libraries would be able to find readers for this book.

October 10, 2008

Getting a job 2.0

It's interesting times in the world out there.

And not surprisingly, the world of the internet is thinking about the implications. One of the big implications is that it's going to be harder to get a job, and that's going to be true librarians as much as anyone else.

As it happens, I've been collecting some links on my FriendFeed lately that talk about getting yourself ready to find a job. (Not that I'm looking for a job myself, more from the point of view of someone who is occasionally on search committees.) How to prepare a CV, how to improve your online repuation, etc.

Robert Scoble's So, you need a job? Man, do resumes suck which has a lot of pointers for how to make your resume and job application stick out. The comments are great too. I'm including some of the main points, please read the whole very fine post for the details:

So, now how do you get into the final two or three pile which is what will earn you an interview? You need to stand out from the crowd somehow. Here’s some ways to do that.

1. Blog. ... Make sure your blog’s content matches the job you are applying for, though. If someone had a blog showing how to be a better administrative assistant you can bet that I’d read every word.

2. Include a customized video that demonstrates your skills and personality.

3. Demonstrate you did some research on us.

4. Make sure you write for a human, but include tags and things for electronic scanners too.

5. Don’t just apply for the job, apply for the career.

6. Demonstrate that you’d be fun to have around.

7. Make sure your email[/cover letter] is perfect in every way.

Next up is Shannon Paul's Six Steps to Resume 2.0, which are also great suggestions. Here's his conclusion -- and since most libraries are at least trying to integrate social media into our offerings I think it's very relevant for looking for a library job:
My thinking is that if you want to work with social media for a living, showing and teaching others about your involvement will mean a lot more than another bullet point outlining your accomplishments. Waiting for everyone else to "get it" won’t work.

What are some other ways we can build bridges for the uninitiated? Can you think of other ways to start tweaking your resume for Web 2.0?

Finally, Dave McClure's The 4 Things You Really Need: LinkedIn, Blog, Keywords, Social Media. These are great ideas, perhaps a bit too out there for the staid world of academia, but I assure you any one or two of these would make you absolutely stand out from most of the other applicants. The main ideas, with details in the post:
1) get a LinkedIn profile, and pimp it out -- HARD.

2) write a regular blog


3) ABSOLUTELY DOMINATE selected keywords (the ones that matter to you or others).

4) create notable online social media ( video, pictures, presentations, etc) relevant to your line of work and link [to] them / embed them on your blog, your LinkedIn profile, and other online sites.

Just today I got an email from someone who was asking about career opportunities in science librarianship. One of the great things about having a blog is that you do get these "out of the blue" questions, where people ask your advice and I think it's a privilege to be able to reach out and hopefully help someone. This is what I told her:
Also, in terms of making yourself more marketable, I would really try and get a solid online professional presence for yourself. It doesn't have to be a blog, but you really need to show that you're aware and interested in the new stuff that's happening. Nature Network, FriendFeed, LinkedIn and others are really valuable places to build your reputation.

And that's essentially the same advice I would give to anyone, particularly new graduates who might not have a lot on their resume yet. Any advantage you can give yourself is an edge. I've been on numerous search committees at my institution and it's always odd to see someone applying for a job in the 21st century for a technology focused job in a technologically focused profession who has no structured, consistent online presence. I want to know who you are, what you've done and what you think and even what other people think about you -- make it easier for me. Blow me away.

Friday Fun: World's largest wargaming table art installation

I'm not even a wargamer myself, but the work of Timothy Hutchings is really cool:

Via BoingBoing.

October 8, 2008

ScienceOnline '09: Register while there's still time!

As of right now, there are 171 people registered for the ScienceOnline '09 conference (January 16-18 in Research Triangle Park, NC), the successor conference to the North Carolina Science Blogging Conference. The maximum for the venue is apparently about 200, so the waiting list will be starting up pretty soon. It's quite the stellar lineup of attendees with many notable names from the science and blogging worlds; a quick browse through the registration list will give you an idea of who's scheduled to come. I'm looking forward to a great mix of people I met last year and people I've always wanted to meet. Bora Zivkovic is profiling attendees and highlighting programming tracks over at his blog.

And speaking of the program, it's really shaping up this year to be very interesting with a good variety of interesting sessions.

As it happens, Christina Pikas and I will be doing a session (so far scheduled for Sunday morning):

A. How to search scientific literature – moderated by Christina Pikas and John Dupuis:

There are so many nifty tricks and strategies for searching the literature that an average scientist is not aware of. So: Ask the experts – the science librarians!

We'll be fleshing that bare-bones description out a bit more as the event approaches.

So, as is obvious by now, I'll be there, this time accompanied by my older son, Sam, who's really interested in all things scientific. There don't seem to be too many librarians who are registered yet that I can see, so I'd encourage the library crowd out there to consider attending. It's a great conference with many valuable insights into how science people are changing their ways in the Internet era.

October 5, 2008

Interview with Dorothea Salo of Caveat Lector

Welcome to the latest installment in my occasional series of interviews with people in the library, publishing and scitech worlds. This time around the subject is Dorothea Salo, Digital Repository Librarian at University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of the blog Caveat Lector. Dorothea is well known for her role in the institutional repository and scholarly communications communities; she's the author of the widely read eprint on IRs "Innkeeper at the Roach Motel," forthcoming in the Fall 2008 Library Trends.

Thanks to Dorothea for her provocative and thoughtful responses. Enjoy!

Q0. Hi Dorothea, would you mind telling us a little about yourself and how you ended up as Digital Repository Librarian at University of Wisconsin-Madison?

After burning out of Ph.D candidacy in Spanish a decade ago, I landed a job doing SGML work and typesetting for a publishing-services bureau serving scholarly publishers and university presses. I also took part in the ebook boomlet of the early 2000s, working on the content specification put out by the (then-)Open eBook Forum. In so doing, I met Allen Renear (then at Brown, now at Illinois/Urbana-Champaign), who has been a mentor and friend ever since.

When the ebook market decayed like the rest of the dot-com boom, I looked around to see who else was doing digitization in a halfway-responsible fashion, and where I could apply such skills as I had usefully. That led me to the UW-Madison's library school. I owe immense gratitude to the UW Survey Center, which turned my full-time job into a half-time project assistantship that paid all but the last semester of my tuition.

On graduating in 2005, I hunted several different sorts of jobs, the entry-level library job market being what it is. The job I landed was the inauguration of the institutional repository at George Mason University in Fairfax VA just outside DC.

Now, Mason is a wonderful place with fantastic colleagues and I loved working there. Unfortunately, DC can be a soul-sucking place to live in; it and I just weren't a good fit for each other. So when the repository-manager position opened at the University of Wisconsin, I searched my soul, consulted with my husband, and applied. I'm so happy to be home in Madison again!

Q1. Recently on FriendFeed Steve Lawson asked people what they would like to be interviewed on. Here's your chance. So, what do you think about "libraries' feasible and proper roles in scholarly communication?"

I think a lot of things. I think the institutional repository was a noble and worthwhile experiment, but as a tool for redressing the imbalances in the scholarly-communication system, it is a failure. It may be reborn if the Harvard experiment succeeds, but that very much remains to be seen. This doesn't mean that I think IRs are useless; they don't have to be, though they often are. It does mean that we're going to have to go after the serials crisis in other ways.

I think we libraries have a lot of market power that we are not using properly. I've heard publishers talk about their industry, and what they invariably say is "we will follow the money." That means libraries; as individual subscriptions dwindle, WE are the ones with the money. They'll follow us -- but we aren't leading them toward open access. We're squealing like stuck pigs about the stalemate, yes, but we're not reallocating any of our serials funds to support gold open access. I think this is a serious mistake.

I think I know why we're doing it; it's the same old story about serving our patrons as best we can with the resources we have. (Librarians have a bit of a martyr complex sometimes.) There is also a serious and ugly undercurrent of anti-OA backlash among faculty; maybe Alma Swan hasn't seen it, but I sure have. Librarians trifle with that at our peril, and we know it. So we sigh, and put every cent we have toward subscriptions, and feel backed against the wall.

Even so -- we HAVE stood our ground once or twice, and the publishers blinked. I am thinking of the stand against the Big Deal of three or four years back. We came out of that well, as hard as it must have been to contemplate at the time. We could have and should have built on that -- but we didn't. I want to see us cancelling overpriced journals, regardless of their impact factors or usage statistics, and standing up to faculty when they ask why. We need to say "no" loudly and clearly more often, and we need to divert some of the serials money we save thereby to gold open access. (Some should go back to monographs, of course.)

As a matter of strategy, then, the open-access movement needs to target serials and e-resources librarians with requests for support of gold OA. SPARC needs to take a hard look at propagandizing (for example) NASIG and the Charleston Conference. CNI isn't anywhere near enough, and ALA conferences revolve around the status quo.

I think some of us have futures as publishing support specialists. Open
Journal Systems isn't going away. I don't know how big this will become,
truthfully, but I do know that I trust librarians a lot more than I trust
other potential and actual players in this space. Big-pig publishers lost
credibility as scholarship's dutiful handmaidens long ago, and I'm nearly
as cynical about scholarly societies, which had their chance to stand with
us but stuck by the big pigs instead. A pox on both their houses; if the
scholarly societies are right and open access sinks some of them, I'm
perfectly baffled as to why I as a librarian should care.

I think all of this boils down to one theme, which I have seen expressed in several distinct contexts: librarians cannot remain the warehouse at the end of the train tracks, as we historically have been. We have to become part of the whole process. We're not used to that, but there's tremendous potential in it for us.

Q2. How did get started blogging and what keeps you going?

Ah, yes. I started blogging in 2002, after a nasty contretemps with my then-employer. The said employer hired me because I was a notable voice in the field at the time. Good public relations, don't you know. During the negotiation process, the employer assured me that they had no interest in stifling my editorial voice; being associated with me was enough of a marketing tool.

Yes, I was stupid to believe it. What can I say? I'd been out of the fishbowl of graduate school barely two scant years, and (believe it or not) I tend to believe the best of people until I have my nose rubbed in how wrong I am. The inevitable happened, of course; I wrote and published something that outraged them, they nearly fired me over it, and it scared me badly enough to find another job.

And start blogging. I hadn't run out of things to say, some of them controversial or even damaging, and I understood finally that I needed a place to say them that was clearly and unequivocally mine, firewalled off from employers. The firewall is, shall we say, somewhat permeable and not always as effective as I'd like, but it's worked well enough for the purpose. And I've learned some things too about where the appropriate boundaries are -- which isn't to say I don't still cross them now and again!

What keeps me going? Well, to be stone-cold selfish about it, blogging is the most productive professional activity I engage in, even though I don't actually do it at work! Directly or indirectly, it's sent me abroad twice, gotten me several "wanna write a book?" invitations, several article gigs, and similar opportunities. It's not all gravy; it may have cost me a job once, and I've also noticed that some people are cautious about approaching me professionally because of my pugnacious blog demeanor. (To them I say: yes, I can occasionally be difficult, but far from always, and I try to be worth the trouble!) Roach Motel may actually manage to eclipse CavLec as the first thing librarians know about me as a professional librarian, but we'll see.

Truthfully, the professional notoriety is a pleasant side-effect, but it's not why I blog. I still have things to say, things I can't say at work or in the professional literature. The blog reaches far more people, and a far greater variety of people, than balkanized and toll-access-firewalled professional publication can. I find the blogging form useful for thinking through systems and phenomena I don't fully understand. And I can also express my joy in great blue herons and art festivals and music.

Q3. I find it interesting that you don't allow comments on your blog but at the same time there's often a quite lively conversation on FriendFeed? What's your rationale for not allowing comments on the blog itself?

I've addressed this on CavLec many a time; I think I need to put permalinks for those posts in the sidebar. For all my pugnacity, I am easily frightened and stressed by open conflict, especially in some of the horrendously nasty and frankly evil forms the Internet tends to foster (notably against technical-minded women). I don't want to deal with that in my space. I don't want to become the next Kathy Sierra. I don't want to go through the angst some of my fellow librarian bloggers have with out-of-control comment threads, trolls, and threats.

There's a counterargument, and a good one: my public blog-face is a good deal meaner and wronger than it would be if I had commenters to call me in public on my garbage. Unfortunately, if I threw open comments to all, I shortly wouldn't have ANY public face, because it isn't just the wise and sensible commenters calling me on my garbage who would show up.

There are also bad counterarguments concerning the effect of comments on a blog's popularity. Sure, I coulda been a contenda in the blogosphere if I'd enabled comments. I don't care about being a contenda, and never have. People come to me now and then asking how to write a popular blog; one or two have even asked me how to make money with a blog, though I've never knowingly allowed so much as the teensiest text-ad on mine. (CavLec did get hacked by linkspammers once, but I cleaned that up as soon as I found out about it.) I never answer such people. I don't know and I don't care. That isn't why I blog.

Q4. And why do you think FriendFeed tends to foster more and better commentary that the comments section for most blogs?

Partly because communities self-select. Partly because the FF signup barrier, minor though it is, is sufficient deterrence to eliminate random trolls as well as pack-mobbing. Partly because feed owners can fence their feeds off by making them semi-private (as I have done with my FF) and by hiding or blocking people who get out of line. Partly because FF threads are ephemeral enough not to attract attention whores the way popular comment-enabled blogs do.

I caution adopters that a "private" FF should not be considered private, even if you strictly control whom you permit to see your feed (and I don't). You never know who's going to squeal on you (I learned that one in grad school), so behave yourself. Still, by and large FF is an immense improvement over blog comments.

Q5. Once upon a time, faculty used to come to the library every week or so to check new journals. You could ask them questions, get their input, etc. How do you think libraries and libraries can still reach out to such an important constituency in the age of Google and ejournals?

Get out of the library! QED. Mohammed and the mountain. The health-sciences library director at MPOW has made a career of this to fantastic effect, and I respect him a great deal for it. He doesn't wait to be invited to faculty meetings; he invites himself. By the third meeting, they expect him to be there and value his input -- which is only natural, because he's incredibly sharp and knowledgeable.

What's holding us back from that? Two things, honestly. One is the reference desk, which is an incredible timesink. (Resolved: Librarians can no longer afford to provide synchronous in-person assistance; the ROI is insufficient. Discuss. Now discuss it in the context of other professions, such as law and medicine.) The other barrier is libraries' unbelievably bad habit of holding too many library-internal meetings. Get librarians OUT of those and INTO faculty meetings, and watch faculty learn to value us again.

There's lots of other stuff floating about with regard to embedding librarians in the research process, as we're doing with information literacy and teaching, and I'm all for that and hope to become an embedded librarian someday myself. None of that changes the fundamental proposition: since they won't come to us, we have to go to them. Not hat in hand, not begging -- we walk in as professionals with plenty of value to offer.

And if we can't think of any value we offer, we've got way worse problems than faculty not coming into the library!

Q6. I guess I have to ask a question about IRs: if you could get one message across to faculty at your institution about Institutional Repositories, what would it be?

Asking questions about IRs is such a drag. ;)

Faculty specifically? "Let me help you."

Frankly, though, a more productive message would be directed at my fellow librarians, and would read "I can't do this without you. Help me."

Q7. In terms of the future of IRs over the next, say, five years, what would the best and worst case scenarios be?

Worst case is easy: they are defunded and die. Harvard delayed that, but I don't think they have prevented it. If the software remains obtuse and difficult, if the goals remain socio-culturally impractical, if the services remain under-resourced and poorly understood, IRs are doomed. At a good many institutions, I believe this is inevitable, still; it's just going to take a little longer than I initially thought. The five-year time horizon you specify should suffice.

Best case: IRs shift from "warehouse at the end of the digital train tracks" to a set of services and systems that manage, safeguard, and shepherd the digital products of the research process all the way through, soup to nuts. We have successful examples of this already, particularly in Australia, and Europe is starting to build them as well. In this country, I suspect they aren't going to grow out of IRs -- they'll be part of the funder-initiated and IT-spearheaded movement to cope with research data locally. This is my warning call to libraries: if we're not in on these discussions, we'll be shut out of the resulting services, and that's bad for all concerned. I have heard some stunningly ignorant statements about data curation from IT people at MPOW -- but on the plus side, at least I'm in on those conversations!

Q8. The scholarly publishing landscape is changing pretty quickly these days. What major changes do you see happening in the next few years in terms of some of the major issues such as journal publishing, publishers' business models, the role of scholarly societies, and the open access movement?

You don't ask small questions, do you? (Yeah, well, they're the only ones really worth asking. -John)

I honestly have no idea what the major changes will be, because so far, major changes in this realm have been discontinuous and out-of-the-blue. I didn't predict the Big Deal backlash. I didn't dare predict the trajectory of the NIH public-access policy, and I'd be stupid to predict who might or might not follow their example. I didn't predict Harvard, and I frankly can't so much as guess who will follow Harvard, or even if anyone will. California's experience is the stern warning here, and extrapolating a guess from MPOW, while it could be interesting, doesn't pass my internal sniff test for reliability.

Part of the reason I can't predict these things is that I'm not invited into the right smoke-filled rooms; players in this game tend to play their cards close to their chests, so I have no way of finding out what they're thinking. Part of the reason is that the outcome of any given individual process, as the NIH policy trajectory demonstrates, is fairly random!

All that leaves me with is the obvious. The publishing lobby will continue its stunning mendacity, largely though not entirely unopposed by rank-and-file publishers. There will be more open-access journals. It is likely to become harder to assert that open-access journals are unsustainable, but that won't stop the publishing lobby from trying -- and it won't stop a few gold journals from folding, either. We will continue to argue about citation advantages, and just what a citation is worth. Faculty will continue to feel whipsawed by all this.

Q9. What role so you think social software/web 2.0 will play in all this?

In "The Social Journal," a presentation I gave for publishers in 2006, I argued that in becoming disciplinary markers and quality arbiters, journals gave up the power and usefulness of unmediated, un-gatekept communication, and that is what researchers are now finding on the Web. The long and short of it is that I still think this.

What's happening now is that some of this communication, since it isn't ephemeral the way a hallway chat at a conference is, is being recognized as holding some sort of scholarly value. Young-turk tenure-trackers want their blogs to be included in their tenure-and-promotion packages. Digital humanists of varying stripes are clamoring for their rightful place. Scientists are asking themselves about communicating with the public as a service obligation. Pieces of the scholarly-valuation process, such as
publication lists and citation tracking, are moving into machine-readable forms on the Web.

The sticky wicket is that none of this directly assails the journal or the monograph yet. (This enabled me to make my 2006 presentation utterly non-threatening to my audience, which both they and I appreciated.) Cultural norms and standards in academia are what they are, and it will be a long time -- probably my lifetime -- before they shift appreciably. I do think some of the smaller problems, such as citation and credit for datasets, will be solved relatively quickly. The larger problems, such as the fragmentation and mutability of online conversations and the difficulty of persisting them, are here to stay.

In the main, then, promotion and tenure will happen as they pretty much have for the last century or so, and the outside conversation will happen outside that process, as it generally has. That conversation is becoming more visible and more persistent, and that makes me happy because I don't approve of the way the toll-access world shuts out the public from the research conversation. Call me a curmudgeon if you will, though, but I don't believe the visibility and persistence of that conversation is game-changing.

Though I could be wrong...

October 3, 2008

Friday Fun: The IgNobels are here!

I've been posting about the annual IgNobel prized for years (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007). This year's "laureates" have just been announced.

As usual, they're hilarious. My favourite is:

BIOLOGY PRIZE. Marie-Christine Cadiergues, Christel Joubert,, and Michel Franc of Ecole Nationale Veterinaire de Toulouse, France for discovering that the fleas that live on a dog can jump higher than the fleas that live on a cat.

REFERENCE: "A Comparison of Jump Performances of the Dog Flea, Ctenocephalides canis (Curtis, 1826) and the Cat Flea, Ctenocephalides felis felis (Bouche, 1835)," M.C. Cadiergues, C. Joubert, and M. Franc, Veterinary Parasitology, vol. 92, no. 3, October 1, 2000, pp. 239-41.

And there's always room for a runner up!
PHYSICS PRIZE. Dorian Raymer of the Ocean Observatories Initiative at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, USA, and Douglas Smith of the University of California, San Diego, USA, for proving mathematically that heaps of string or hair or almost anything else will inevitably tangle themselves up in knots.

REFERENCE: "Spontaneous Knotting of an Agitated String," Dorian M. Raymer and Douglas E. Smith, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 104, no. 42, October 16, 2007, pp. 16432-7.


(Saw it first via Eva.)