January 29, 2009

OLA2009: My session on Science 2.0 & community building

My presentation was this morning and I thought it went very well. The attendance was around 30-35, which is pretty good for a niche topic in a conference with so many parallel sessions. There were some good questions, the timing worked out ok (which is good for me as I can tend to run longer that planned), the audience seemed to be following and nodding in the appropriate ways at the appropriate time. Also, at the end a few people came up to the front and had some very kind things to say.

So, a success.

Here are the slides:

The non-embedded version is here.

For those that are interested, I'll include the references I read but didn't link in the presentation here:



Finally, I'd like to thank Alison Stirling for convening my session and for her very kind and generous introduction.

January 27, 2009

OLA Superconference: Web 2.0 Community Building Strategies: The World of Science 2.0

That's the title of my upcoming presentation the Ontario Library Association's Superconference. It's this coming Thursday at 10:40.

Web 2.0 Community Building Strategies: The world of science 2.0

Session # 429
Thursday, January 29th, 10:40 AM

John Dupuis, Science Librarian, York University

Science is a collaborative, incremental enterprise. Large teams must work together on massive long-term projects, working toward common goals and creating joint scholarly outputs. Scientists also have to deal with information overload like everyone else with countless journals, conferences and blogs vying for their attention. Science is also becoming data oriented, with the computational analysis of huge datasets (genomic, geospatial, astrophysical) and the modeling of complex systems (climatological, chemical, biomechanical) becoming a core activity in most disciplines. Scitech academics and publishers are reacting to all these forces as well as the pressure from Open Access publishing by becoming more innovative in the features and services that they are offering. What are some of the lessons that the library community can learn from their experiences?

Convenor: Alison Stirling

It should be fun. I'm hoping for as lively and interactive session as I had last year. I find myself becomming more of a fan of the unconference format every day and I hope my audience will take the presentation away from me just like last year.

My slides are in late beta and, for those interested in an advance peak, can be found here. It's not quite too late for suggestions!

After the session, I'll embed the slides here like last year. As for blogging the other sessions that I attend, well, we'll see. I never got around to it last year and since February promises to be an incredibly busy month for me this year, I won't make any promises.

And speaking of epic fails, I'm really disappointed to see that OLA doesn't appear to be having a public blog for the conference this year. Instead they have hidden it behind the LibraryNG registration wall. Needless to say, I am very disappointed with this decision and think it's completely wrongheaded. I've written about LibraryNG before, so I won't belabour the point here.

Update 2009.01.28
: Link to slides fixed. Thanks, Michael!

January 26, 2009

ScienceOnline '09: Sunday summary and final thoughts

As with the Saturday summaries, I won't really go into detailed summaries of sessions -- you can get a lot of summary information on the conference wiki or on FriendFeed.

So, here goes. In each case, I'll link to the wiki discussion page:

Reputation, authority and incentives. Or: How to get rid of the Impact Factor — moderated by Peter Binfield and Bjoern Brembs

An intense session about a lot of different ideas, mostly generating a lot of questions but not a lot of answers. Is is possible to game the impact factors or influence how they are calculated? Are impact factors better than nothing? Should they be replaced by a variety of different performance metrics that each show a different things? Should we have performance metrics at all? If metrics are useful for filtering, will it be possible to replace them at all? How do you construct an incentive system for science if what's good for scientists (ie. using impact factors for filtering) isn't good for science (ie. distortion of science by using impact factors for filtering)? How do you align those two parallel incentive structures?

Hey, You Can’t Say That! — moderated by Greg Laden, Rick MacPherson, Karen James and Mark Powell
More questions! How do you manage your online persona? Once you say something, can you put the genie backin the bottle? Do you have to practice self-censorship? Should employers have rules and procedures about employee blogging, even if it's on their private time? And what do bloggers owe their day jobs?

How to search scientific literature
– moderated by Christina Pikas and John Dupuis
A bit of bad luck for the presentation that Christina and I did, right at the very last timeslot of the conference. We couldn't get the data projector to work with Christina's laptop, nor could the tech support guy from Sigma Xi. So, our breezy interaction demo and tips sessions became...talk. Oh well. All in all, I hope that the attendees were happy with our tips and strategies, at least to the extent we were able to explain rather than show. We do have slide that we were going to shoe, here.

Final Thoughts

Another great conference, if anything objectively even better than last year. I say objectively, because subjectively my experience of community was rather profound and knowing what to expect this year, it's hard to compare those kinds of feelings.

And just like last year, the community continued to the last possible minute. Last year, I was hanging around with Deepak Singh and Salman Hameed more or less right up until I got on the plane back to Toronto. This time all the GTA attendees were on the same plane back home! So Sam and I hung around with Eva Amsen, Glendon Mellow and Michael Nielsen until the very last minute. Victor Henning was connecting home via Toronto, so he was there too. Eva has a picture of us at the airport.

The sessions were great but it was also great to renew friendships from last year, to see old friends again and to meet new friends. I know that Sam felt very welcome and not at all looked down upon as a kid and that his contributions and comments were valued as a peer; it makes a dad proud. I hope to bring him back again next year. There were vague rumblings of another London/European event, which I more or less promised Corie Lok and/or Martin Fenner that I would attend.

Unlike last year, I'm not going to even attempt to list all the people I met and talked to. Really, that was a bit odd what I did last year -- what was I thinking? The only one I will mention is the new scitech library blogger I met, Chris Clouser of The Logical Operator. After all, we librarians need to stick together.

Thanks to all the organizers for putting on such a wonderful show, Bora, Anton and David. See you all next year.

January 24, 2009

Is Barack Obama good news for science in Canada?

As President of the USA, Barack Obama is going to restore science to its rightful place. That's the good news.

From a Canadian perspective, that's apparently also the bad news, according to Carolyn Abraham and Elizabeth Church's Globe and Mail article, As U.S. emerges from dark age, Canada's scientific edge fades.

But in Canada's research community, Mr. Obama's plans have sparked anxiety that if this country fails to keep pace, it will have a tougher time recruiting smart people and convincing talent not to flock south. In short, Canada could lose its competitive edge to the Obama advantage.

"We have come off a very good period compared to the States and now we are in danger that they will just drive way past us," said Harvey Weingarten, president of the University of Calgary.


There is little question that the brain drain of the Bush era was Canada's gain: The number of American educators who received permits to work here grew by 15 per cent between 2002 and 2007, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada. That figure includes a 27-per-cent jump in the number of university professors and assistants who moved north during the same period.

And this just as Canada has a Conservative government (and a Prime Minister in Stephen Harper) that's somewhat skeptical about science:
Yet recent history has made some fretful of the Harper government's plans. After more than a decade of remarkable growth, federal research funding to Canadian universities has flat-lined and sunk. Some Tories' past skepticism on the science of climate change, the government's overruling of the Nuclear Safety Commission, the firing of the commission's president and the Conservatives' decision to abolish the office of the independent national science adviser have brought international criticism.


"We already have no science adviser advising our prime minister," he said. Mr. Harper has mentioned no plans to reinstate that position, but Dr. Hayden believes "we should have an office of science and technology at the cabinet level."

In contrast, Mr. Obama has appointed leading scientists as advisers in his inner circle, such as Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu as his secretary of energy, and Nobel laureate Harold Varmus and MIT genome biologist Eric Lander as chairs of the Presidential Council of Advisers on Science and Technology.

Dr. Hayden also wants to see Canada find a way to commercialize its top-notch research by offering tax and investment incentives to spur industry. As it is, said Dr. Hayden, half of Canada's 500 biotech firms are expected to run out of cash within the year.

"We're in a dreadful state," he said.

Nature Network Toronto Pub Night: Monday, January 26, 2009

From the Nature Network Toronto Forum:

There’s a pub night coming up! The theme of the evening is blogging.
As usual, it’s casual, but we’ve got a guest speaker, a report from the ScienceOnline09 conference, some science bloggers, and hopefully a hard copy of the new edition of Open Laboratory to browse through. The pub serves decent food, so come early and have dinner (and meet fellow Toronto Nature Networkers) before the talks start.


Have you ever thought that you’d like to start a blog, but wondered how to combine blogging with your work?

Toronto tech blogger (and “Accordion Guy”) Joey DeVilla will give a talk about how he successfully incorporated blogging in his life and work.

We’ll also look at the newest edition of Open Laboratory, a book collecting the best posts from science weblogs in the past year, and get a report from the ScienceOnline09 conference (held January 16-18 in North Carolina) to see some of the ways blogs are used in science.

Date: Monday January 26th 2009
Location: Fionn MacCool’s (181 University at Adelaide)
Time: 6 PM onwards (talks start at 7)
Contact: Eva Amsen eva@easternblot.net

There's a FaceBook event, of course.

It looks like it's going to be a great event and I look forward to seeing some of my GTA readers there. The ScienceOnline section will has the GTA bloggers who attended the conference talking about the experience: Eva Amsen, Michael Nielsen, me and possibly Glendon Mellow.

January 23, 2009

Li, Charlene and Josh Bernoff. Groundswell: Winning in a world transformed by social media. Boston: Harvard Business Press, 2008. 286pp.

The first wave of social media books, like Wikinomics or even Here Comes Everybody, were of the "what the heck is this all about" variety. They focused on getting people up to speed on what social media is and what it could be used for, not so much on concrete strategies for implementing social media for a particular organization or community. The second wave of social media books is starting to hit now, books about the nuts and bolts of online community building, and Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff's Groundswell: Winning in a world transformed by social media is an excellent example.

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book to anyone who actaully wants to implement social networking or media software in their organization or for their community. Yes, library and science 2.0 communities, this means you. Want to engage your patrons in online library spaces? Want to build a "Facebook for scientists" that will actually be more than a barren windswept wasteland? This book is for you.

Trying to summarize or explain all the lists of suggestions and strategies the authors give us is probably not that practical, especially since their top to bottom, beginning to end treatment of implementing social media will mean that some chapters are more relevant to some people and other chapters to other people.

A brief outline of the sections will probably give a better feeling for what the book is about. The first part explains what the social media groundswell is and why it's suddenly become important for organizations to engage their communities directly. Part two is about tapping into the groundswell: listening, talking, energizing, helping and embracing. Part three is about transforming your organization internally so that it can embrace the customer groundswell.

One like I did like, at the very end of the book, does give us an idea of how the authors see organizations transforming their attitudes to allow them to embrace the groundswell.

So, we'll finish with some advice, not on what to do, but on how to be. This is the essence of groundswell thinking we've been describing...developing the right attitude. Here are some lessons we learned from groundswell thinkers, lessons that will help you make this amazing transition.

First, never forget that the groundswell is about person-to-person activity...

Second, be a good listener...

Third, be patient...

Fourth, be opportunistic....

Fifth, be flexible...

Sixth, be collaborative...

Seventh, and last, be humble...

These are the principles of groundswell thinking. Aspire t these qualities, and you can use the strategies we've laid out to your advantage -- or invent your own. You'll be able to build on you successes, both with customers and within you company. And then, as the groundswell rises and becomes ubiquitous, you will be ready.

I'm often critical of business hype books and their shallowness and repetition. This book just isn't like those others. It's actually pretty down to earth and practical. It has certainly changed the way I think about library web presences and how we can work to engage our patron communities. It also shapes my thinking and research directions every day.

This book is suitable and recommended for any collection that supports entrepreneurship and online community building, be it in a business, social science, technology or industrial setting. As well, public libraries that reach out to local business communities could do with this book, both for their patrons and for figuring out how to reach out to their communities.

And has there ever been a better time in recent memory to be a community organizer?

Friday Fun: Aragorn wears La Sainte-Flanelle!

As many of you no doubt are aware, my favourite hockey team, the Montreal Canadiens are celebrating their centennial this year. As part of the celebrations the CBC is airing a special on the team.

Andrew Ryan of the Globe and Mail wrote an article on the special, from which I extract this quote:

In the most notable star endorsement, American actor Viggo Mortenson, a long-time fan, reveals he wore a classic Canadiens logo T-shirt under his Aragorn breastplate throughout the making of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. "It gave me just a little more power with the sword," he says.

How cool is that?

BTW, it's worth noting that Ryan makes a fairly serious error in Canadiens nomenclature in the article. Bonus points to anyone who finds the mistake.

January 22, 2009

ScienceOnline '09: Saturday summary

So, ScienceOnline'09 was quite the experience again this year. My son Sam and I arrived in NC quite late on Friday night, so other than a quick drink there is really nothing to report for Friday. Sam's posted a bit on the conference so far.

Before I start talking a bit about the sessions I attended on Saturday, I just what to mention what my Theory of ScienceOnline was this year. I really ended up attending lots of sessions on topics that I really wasn't expecting, rather than some "usual suspects" type sessions. For example, I didn't go to the Open Access session or the Social Networking for Scientists session. Odd, since those are actually the topics I'm generally most keenly interested in, right? True, but I've been to sessions on those types of topics before so I ended up choosing in favour of other topics. And ultimately, I'm quite happy with that.

I won't really go into detailed summaries of sessions -- you can get a lot of summary information on the conference wiki or on FriendFeed.

So, here goes. In each case, I'll link to the wiki discussion page:

Science Fiction on Science Blogs?
— moderated by Stephanie Zvan

This was a good session, but like all discussions on Science Fiction and X, it ended up talking about why normal people don't really appreciate SF. In any case, there was some talk about using sf as a gateway to engagement in scientific issues, and what role blogs could play in that, but not a lot. There were a few good book recommendations and some discussion about "What is science fiction for!" One thing I'm definitely going to track down is Tolkein's The Notion Club Papers!

Science online – middle/high school perspective — moderated by Stacy Baker and her students.
This was a great session, one of the highlights of the whole conference for me. Basically, private HS teacher Stacy Baker brought a bunch of her freshman and junior student to the conference and hosted this session where they could talk about what technologies they use in class and how they feel about the educational process in general as it pertains to social software. The kids talked about their use of software such as Twitter, Skype, AIM, Ning, FaceBook and others. More interestingly, the talk turned to the "creepy treehouse." In other words, how can kids, parents and educators co-exist in these online social and educational spaces, keeping it enjoyable, respectful and safe. The kids main message, probably to the despair of most educators, was "It can't be boring." I think we in higher ed will have a lot to deal with in a few years. BTW, these kids were absolutely amazing. Intelligent, articulate, funny and serious -- the future is in great hands.

Teaching College Science: Blogs and Beyond
— moderated by Andrea Novicki and Brian Switek
Another very good session. For this one we broke up into groups and each group needed to come up with three ways to use blogs in education. The wiki page has very detailed notes for this, with all the ideas people came up with. This was an interesting session in that we never really seemed to run out of new ways to use blogs but we never really got to explore any particular ideas in depth.

Alternative careers: how to become a journal editor
– moderated by Henry Gee (senior editor at Nature) and Peter Binfield (managing editor of PLoS ONE)
Since I don't want to become a journal editor, why did I go to this session? Mostly because I wanted to learn a little about what exactly a journal editor does and I was hoping that I'd gain some insight here.

And that's definitely the case, most particularly from Henry Gee of Nature. In his rambling, discursive style, he gave us all a very interesting picture of the life of an editor at Nature. Most precisely, the art (not science) of deciding what papers get published. He also made a persuasive case that journal editor should be considered a valid career choice for science people, not just as a fall back position for those whose more traditional career aspirations don't pan out.

Anonymity, Pseudonymity – building reputation online — moderated by PalMD and Abel
I'd tell you what happened in this panel, but then they'd have to kill me.

But seriously, I saw this session as one more about raising questions and speculating on possible best practices rather than giving hard and fast answers. Here's some of the questions that were discussed: Does anyone care what your real name is? Can a very determined stalker figure out your real name? How worried are you about being outed? What about revealing details about family members or posting pictures? Will you employer care about what you post? Do you need to let them know you have a blog before you start a new job? How about funders or sponsors? Is there an interaction between your real name and your pseudonym?

How to become a (paid) science journalist: advice for bloggers — moderated by Rebecca Skloot and Tom Levenson
As with most of the other parts of the science blogosphere, lately I've been thinking about what exactly science blogging is good for compared to more traditional science journalism. Of more precisely, how they're different and how both can be nourished and supported in their hopefully complementary (rather than mutually exclusive) roles. It seems to me that the main difference between the two modes is the emphasis on story telling, an idea that the moderators came back to repeatedly, even if indirectly. Blogs are slice of life, concentrating on one idea or event; journalism (at least in longer forms) is more about narrative, character and story structure.

Levenson and Skloot did a great job of exploring those ideas in the context of how a newbie could break into paid journalism from science blogging.

It's interesting that at the end, Tom tried to be controversial by maintaining that the habit and rhythms of blogging are inimical to being a successful journalist. Oddly, no one really took the bait.

I'll be reporting on the Sunday sessions next.

January 20, 2009

Rebooting Computing!

Eugene Wallingford has some great conference notes from the recent Rebooting Computing Summit.

The Summit has a manifesto, which begins:

It is a time of challenges for the computing field. We are tired of hearing that a computing professional is enrollment to degreeTaulbee Survey, the Computing Research Association:little more than a program coder or a system administrator; or that a college or graduate education is unnecessary; or that entering the computing field is a social death. We are dismayed that K-12 students, especially girls, have such a negative perception of computing. We are alarmed by reports that the innovation rate in our field has been declining and that enrollments in our degree programs have dropped 50% since 2001. Instead of the solo voice of the programmer, we would like to hear from the choir of mathematicians, engineers,and scientists who make up the bulk of our field.

Eugene was there and has some great posts on his feelings and reactions to the conference. I'll highlight only a very small portion of his comments, all of which are well worth reading.

Notes on the Rebooting Computing Summit
One particular comment made the first morning stood out in my mind. The gap between what people want to make with a computer and what they can reasonably make has widened considerably in the last thirty years. What they want to make is influenced by what they see and use every day. Back in 1980 I wanted to write a program to compute chess ratings, and a bit of BASIC was all I needed. Kids these days walk around with computational monsters in their pockets, sometimes a couple, and their desires have grown to match. Show them Java or Python, let alone BASIC, and they may well feel deflated before considering just what they could do.

Computing creates a new world. It builds new structures on top of old, day by day. Computing is different today than it was thirty years ago -- and so is the world. What excited us may well not excite today's youth.

Rebooting the Public Image of Computing
One of my table mates told us a story of seeing brochures for two bioinformatics programs at the same university. One was housed in the CS department, and the other was housed with the life sciences. The photos used in the two brochures painted strikingly different images in terms of how people were dressed and what the surroundings looked like. One looked like a serious discipline, while the other was "scruffy". Which one do you think ambitious students will choose? Which one will appeal to the parents of prospective students? Which one do you think was housed in CS?

Sometimes, the messages we send about our discipline are subtle, and sometimes not.

Too often, what K-12 students see in school these days under the guise of "computing" is applications. It is boring, full of black boxes with no mystery. It is about tools to use, not ideas for making things. After listening to several people relate their dissatisfaction with this view of computing, it occurred to me that one thing we might do to immediately improve the discipline's image is to get what currently passes for computing out of our schools. It tells the wrong stories!

Rebooting Computing Workshop Approach Redux
Personally, I found the process to be worth at least some of the time we spent. I enjoyed looking back at my life in computing, reflecting on my own history, reliving a few stories, and thinking about what has influenced. I realized that my interest in computer science wasn't driven by math or CS teachers in high school or my undergraduate years.. I had a natural affinity for computing and what it means. The teachers who most affected me were ones who encouraged me to think abstractly and to take ideas seriously, who gave me reason to think I could do those things. The key was to find my passion and run.

I really wish I could have been there, the public image of computing (and engineering) are topics that are near and dear to my heart. At the same time, I think that what the summit needed was probably about 20% of the people there to be people that aren't in computing (or math or science or engineering). They are the ones that have those important insights, not another bunch of CS types wondering why no one loves them.

January 15, 2009

Best Science Books 2008: Seed Magazine

A very nice list from Seed. There are some really interesting books here that I haven't seen on other lists.

  • Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure By Paul A. Offit

  • Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex By Mary Roach

  • Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It By Elizabeth Royte

  • Doctor Olaf van Schuler's Brain By Kirsten Menger-Anderson

  • The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment By Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich

  • Eating the Sun: How Plants Power the Planet By Oliver Morton

  • The Endless City Edited by Ricky Burdett and Deyan Sudjic

  • The Hot Topic: What We Can Do About Global Warming By Gabrielle Walker and Sir David King

  • Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique By Michael S. Gazzaniga

  • Icarus at the Edge of Time By Brian Greene

  • In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto By Michael Pollan

  • The Invention of Air: A Study of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America By Steven Johnson

  • Jetpack Dreams: One Man's Up and Down (But Mostly Down) Search for the Greatest Invention That Never Was By Mac Montandon

  • The Lightness of Being: Mass, Ether, and the Unification of Forces By Frank Wilczek

  • The Living Cosmos: Our Search for Life in the Universe By Chris Impey

  • The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom By Simon Winchester

  • Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life By Carl Zimmer

  • Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them By David Anderegg

  • The Numbers Game: The Commonsense Guide to Understanding Numbers in the News, in Politics, and in Life By Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot

  • On the Surface of Things: Images of the Extraordinary in Science By Felice Frankel and George M. Whitesides

  • Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions By Dan Ariely

  • Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food By Pamela C. Ronald and Raoul W. Adamchak

  • The Stuff of Life: A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA By Mark Schultz, Illustrated by Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon

  • The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strageness of Insect Societies By Bert Hölldobler and E.O. Wilson

  • The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature By Daniel J. Levitin

January 14, 2009

ScienceOnline '09: How to search the scientific literature

ScienceOnline '09 is in just a couple of days!

The librarian content this year will be Christina Pikas and I presenting on Sunday morning on How to Search the Scientific Literature. Being librarians, that's a topic we could go on and on about, ad nauseum. And since Christina and I come from different institutional contexts (she works at a lab and I work at a large university), I'm sure we'd both come at from different directions anyways!

However, given the savviness level of the participants at ScienceOnline and the unconference aspect of the conference, we thought it would be appropriate to put the question out to the potential audience of the session: What do you want us to talk about?

Are there topics, databases, issues, etc, that you've always wanted to engage the library community with but didn't know who to ask? Are there gripes or complaints? Things you think we should advocate for with the publisher community? Things we could be doing for you?

Have you ever just wondered what science librarians do?

Here's your chance.

Leave a comment on this post or on FriendFeed, email me (jdupuis at yorku dot ca), leave a note on the wiki page. And we'll see what we can do.

You can see who's registered here.

Update 2009.01.14: Bumped up to the top of the blog to give everyone another chance to make suggestions.

Best Science Books 2008: The Quackometer

I really have no clue what The Quackometer is, but they do have an pretty decent list of books on "quackery, scepticism, complementary and alternative medicine and its effects on society." What's nice is that most of these books aren't on other lists.

  • Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All by Rose Shapiro

  • Counterknowledge: How We Surrendered to Conspiracy Theories, Quack Medicine, Bogus Science and Fake History By Damian Thompson

  • Healing, Hype or Harm?: A Critical Analysis of Complementary or Alternative Medicine By Edzard Ernst

  • Bad Science By Ben Goldacre

  • Don't Get Fooled Again: The Sceptic's Guide to Life By Richard Wilson

  • Trick or Treatment?: Alternative Medicine on Trial By Simon Singh, Edzard Ernst

  • The Duck That Won the Lottery: and 99 Other Bad Arguments By Julian Baggini

January 13, 2009

Tor.com & Globe and Mail Books: What can library websites learn

This was a hard post to title, in that I wanted it to be reasonably short yet pack in a lot of information. The real post title should be: What can library web sites learn from commercial book-related web sites such as Tor.com and the brand new Globe and Mail Books site?

First of all, a brief note about where I'm coming from. This is a a thought experiment. It's a thought experiment about a very particular idea of what library websites could look like. There are lots of other possible thought experiments I could have engaged in about different ideas.

One thing about library web sites is that they tend to focus on concrete problem solving behaviours: find a book, find some data, find some articles. Some library web sites are good at facilitating those activities, some not so much. One thing we tend not to focus on is creating our own entertaining and engaging content or explicitly promoting specific content created or curated by some other organizations. Again, some do do this, some well, some not so much.

As a result, library web presences can be a bit dry and static. How to spice things up a bit, content-wise? (Note for that the purposes of this thought experiment, I'm assuming that we do want to spice things up. In actual fact, I'm not entirely convinced of this but I think it's something that I explicitly want to explore.)

An interesting place to look is commercial web sites that are somewhat seriously intentioned but that are also engaging and entertaining. It would also be nice if the general topic of the site more-or-less maps to what we in libraries do. In other words, good old fashioned books. Now, a case can be made that we should follow the model of YouTube or Perez Hilton for creating our own engaging content, but this thought experiment is really driven by a couple of sites I've been following lately.

So, what can we learn from a couple of relatively new commercial sites that are about books.


Tor.com is the home page for the sffh book publisher Tor; in other words, they are ultimately trying to sell books.

I find it very interesting that this page actually has very little directly about Tor's products -- you have to follow the link to a different Tor Books page. I also find it very interesting that the home page for the publisher is a blog and that very few of the blog posts are directly about Tor's books but rather about the world of sffh in general. I presume they do this with the idea that if people go to the site a lot to read and interact with all this content and they get tons of pageviews, this will generate a certain brand awareness and product awareness that will translate into sales. Or more specifically, they will create a community (there are forums too) around their site and their content that will create brand loyalty in a way that merely publishing good books never could.

My take-away on this: As it happens, what I really find interesting and provocative is the idea of using a blog as your home page, the idea that you can leverage the content you create and put on the blog and direct it towards the "stealth" purpose. In Tor's case, that would be buying books. In the case of a library that would use a blog as it's home page, the stealth purpose would be to funnel students to our catalogue, online resources and various services.

Would this work? The first problem is finding enough interesting and engaging content to post on the blog that is even remotely related to the library mission. The second problem is to actually do the posting in a regular enough fashion to make the library a destination blog for the community. The third problem is actually getting students who dropped by the blog to read a cultural critique of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to actually follow through and use books and articles about Buffy (or biology). Or, having enjoyed the Buffy post, come back at some later time for information about biology or history or whatever. I'm not convinced that any of those three problems are easy to solve.

Globe and Mail Books

The Globe and Mail Books site is the newly launched hub for the G&M's book coverage; in other words, they are ultimately trying to use coverage of books and book-related topics to sell advertising. This site is more-or-less replacing a radically slimmed down print print books section, which used to be separate but is now merged with the Focus section. Books sections have been easy cost-cutting targets at newspapers for quite a while now so I'm happy to see that the Globe has seen the trend as more than just an opportunity to cut costs but as an opportunity to build something that responds to the rise of book review culture on the web. Books may be old media and the web new media, but an awful lot of the web seems to be about books.

As I said, this site is very new so I imagine that they'll be tweeking it a bit over the next little while to adjust to the early reception. However, I have to say that I like the site quite a bit. It has multimedia, feature stories, exclusive daily reviews, blogs, author interviews as well as linking to book stories elsewhere on the web. It includes all the content of the vestigal print edition as well as adding a fair bit of new stuff. I find that the site does definitely draw me in and get me exploring and clicking.

The blogs could be better integrated into the site as a whole and the external posts could be better positioned as well, but they do seem to be somewhat stuck with a common Globe look and feel. The stuff that's not in the print edition (ie the blogs) really needs to be featured and highlighted. Overall the site seems to lack a really exciting visual pop -- a bit too staid even for a book site. I hope they add more bloggers and begin to seriously highlight the work of the larger books blogosphere. I also hope they surface the interaction that happens in the comments sections of the articles and blogs better. User-generated content in the form of reviews and other stuff might be interesting too, as well as a way to recruit a new generation of reviewers.

Of course, I really hope they improve their coverage of science and technology books (as well as non-mystery genres like sf, fantasy and horror), but for that only time will tell.

My take-aways from this: Even if the site is lacking a bit of pizazz, the thing that I do find interesting is that they're assuming that coverage of old media like books will generate new media pageviews and result in advertising, advertising that I guess was disappearing from the print edition.

The interesting thing for library websites here I think revolves around the kind of content we could create for the kind of bloggy site that the Tor example could lead to. The stuff on the G&M Books site is seriously intentioned but also interesting. It's multimedia and interactive in a way that draws people in rather than away.

A lack of pizazz is not usually a good thing, design-wise, but I do thing the overall approach is something that a content-oriented library website could learn from.


The bottom line? Maybe cool and interesting content can be used to engage students and faculty and draw them to the library web site. And once they're there, maybe they'll stick around and make use of our other collections and services that are more directly related to their tasks as scholars. Or maybe not. I guess I'm still stuck on what actual problem that our users have that that they're going to want our websites to help them solve. Is their problem that they don't have enough YouTube videos to watch? I don't think so.

Is this whole thought experiment really a case of a solution in search of a problem? Is the problem we're solving by making our websites more interesting and interactive really about improving our own self-image?

So, what can library websites learn? As far as I'm concerned, the jury is still out on this one.

January 9, 2009

Friday Fun: Chapter-by-Chapter reading notes for two famous books

A couple of blogs out there are doing notes on the blog author's chapter-by-chapter reading of a famous book. One is underway and the other is just starting and I sincerely hope both are able to get all the way to the end. Both are well worth your attention.

On the fun side, Kate Nepveu is re-reading J.R.R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings with the notes on the Tor web page.

From a more scholarly perspective, John Whitfield is blogging Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species on a new ScienceBlogs blog, Blogging the Origin. This project is just getting under way.

One interesting point, one which may deserve a post all it's own, is that Tor is basically using a multi-author blog as it's home page. They do have a page dedicated to their books, but the blog is really front and centre, filled with interesting and engaging content of all types, not just about the books they publish. I wonder if there are any lessons the library world can learn from this?

(I first heard about the first project on Uncertain Principles and the second on A Blog around the Clock.)

January 8, 2009

Science Librarian, York University Libraries

This is a 3-year appointment in my library, the Steacie Science & Engineering Library. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. Since I'm on the search committee for this position, I really can't answer any but the most general questions.

The deadline for applications is March 2, 2009.

Here's the posting:

Position Rank: Contractually Limited Appointment
Discipline/Field: Science Librarian
Home Faculty: Libraries
Home Department/Area/Division: Steacie Science and Engineering Library
Affiliation/Union: YUFA
Position Start Date: August 1, 2009
Position End Date: July 31, 2012

York University Libraries seek a self-directed and public service-oriented Science Librarian based in the Steacie Science & Engineering Library.

The Science Librarian will be responsible for faculty liaison, collection development and the delivery of information literacy programs for assigned disciplines and will participate in research consultations and outreach activities to departments and research centres. Responsibilities include selection of information resources, collection management and evaluation in such fields as nursing, biology, chemistry and physics. He/she will work individually and as part of a team to develop and provide reference services and information literacy programs to York’s community of users taking full advantage of the online learning and web environments. She/he will also participate in project and committee work for York University Libraries and the University. Some evening and weekend work is required.

York University offers a world-class, modern, interdisciplinary academic experience in Toronto, Canada’s most multicultural city. York is at the centre of innovation, with a thriving community of almost 60,000 students, faculty and staff, who challenge the ordinary and deliver the unexpected.

Steacie Science and Engineering Library is one of four libraries within York University Libraries. The Steacie Science and Engineering Library attracts a half million visitors a year and provides specialized resources, and reference and instructional services to the science, engineering, and health programs of York University. The Library takes pride in its extensive information literacy program and online learning support initiatives. Four full-time librarians and seven full-time support staff are currently based in the Steacie Science & Engineering Library.

Qualifications: An ALA-accredited MLIS or equivalent with up to three years’ post-MLIS experience. Educational background or library experience relevant to science and particularly health related disciplines. Knowledge of health, science and technology literature and reference resources, and awareness of emerging trends in scholarly communication. Experience with Web authoring software and Web support technologies; familiarity with Web 2.0 technologies preferred. Strong client-centred service philosophy and evidence of professional initiative and leadership. Ability to handle multiple responsibilities and projects concurrently. Strong written and oral communication skills, including demonstrated skills in teaching and public communications. Demonstrated understanding of concepts, goals, and methods of information literacy instruction and ability to teach in a variety of settings and formats. Ability to work effectively and collegially with a diversity of colleagues and clients. Interest in research, professional development, and university committee work.

The Science Librarian position is a three-year contractually limited appointment to be filled as Adjunct Librarian level and appropriate for a librarian with up to three years post-MLS experience. Librarians at York University have academic status and are members of the York University Faculty Association bargaining unit (http://www.yufa.org/). Salary is commensurate with qualifications. The position is available August 1, 2009. All York University positions are subject to budgetary approval.

York University is an Affirmative Action Employer. The Affirmative Action Program can be found on York's website at www.yorku.ca/acadjobs or a copy can be obtained by calling the affirmative action office at 416-736-5713. All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply; however, Canadian citizens and Permanent Residents will be given priority. Temporary entry for citizens of the U.S.A. and Mexico may apply per the provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

York University resources include centres relating to gender equity, race and ethnic relations, sexual harassment, human rights, and wellness. York University encourages attitudes of respect and non-discrimination toward persons of all ethnic and religious groups, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

The deadline for applications is March 2, 2009. Applications, including a cover letter relating applicant qualifications to the requirements of the position, a current curriculum vitae, a link to online examples of work where relevant, and the names of three referees, should be sent to:

Chair, Science Librarian Appointment Committee
York University Libraries, 310 Scott Library
York University, 4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M3J 1P3
Fax: 416-736-5451

Applications should be sent by mail, e-mail, or fax, with a hardcopy following by mail.

January 6, 2009

A year of blog stats

I've been using Google Analytics to track my blog stats since July 2006. I first posted a year's worth of stats in July 2007, giving me a good year's worth of stats to report on. Of course, it seems to make some kind of more sense to report based on a calendar year rather than the anniversary of installing a kind of software.

Therefore, this post.

Last time, I was inspired by a couple of other people reporting their stats, and this time is no different. It was Richard Akerman's recent post on the stats for his Science Library Pad blog that really gave me the kick in the pants to get this done. I'm not going to get as detailed as Richard, but I do hope to give a flavour of the last year.

Some basics (visits / pageviews):

  • July 2006 - June 2007: 18,856 / 26,928, monthly ave: 1,571 / 2,244
  • Calendar 2007: 31,144 / 44,458, monthly ave: 2,595 / 3,705
  • Calendar 2008: 56,593 / 73,212, monthly ave: 4,716 / 6,101
  • Increase, 2008 over 2007: 82% / 65%

Quite an increase, one I'm very pleased about. Of course, the big reason for such a dramatic increase was being named the Blogger Blog of Note for June 9th. This alone brought me about 16,100 visits.

See below the graph I extracted out of Google Analytics and you can see how June really dominates the whole year, actually making it a bit hard to see trends for the rest of the year.

(Any caption ideas for the graph?)

So, here are some top 10 lists for 2008, with a bit of commentary on some of the interesting ones.

Top 10 Posts
  1. Jeff Healey. (1462 page views) I posted a little anecdote about Healey shortly after he passed away this past March and somehow this got me to the top couple of Google hits on his name for a few weeks. The web is a very strange place, sometimes.

  2. Best and worst science books. (1257) Librarians and books. Seems like an association that can't be broken.

  3. Best Science Books 2007: Library Journal. (838) These best of the year posts are probably the only thing I do with an eye towards traffic, ever since I discovered they were so popular. People seem to want to know about the best science books and it's also something I find interesting as well so I guess it's a natural for me to post about it.

  4. Best Science Books 2007: Royal Society. (593)

  5. Science in the 21st Century reading list. (496) Yet another post about books. This is actually a really good reading list for people interested in where science research and communication is going.

  6. Best Science Books 2008: The New York Times. (495)

  7. Getting a Job 2.0. (474) What happened with this post is kind of amusing. It provoked a bit of overwrought snark amongst some library school students and ended up being quite popular as a result. I still think the advice I cobbled together for the post is valid.

  8. Interview with Timo Hannay, Head of Web Publishing, Nature Publishing Group. (417) My most popular interview ever, by a wide margin, still popular after 18 months. Timo has a lot of interesting things to say about where science publishing is headed.

  9. Interview with Dorothea Salo of Caveat Lector. (379) The most popular of the four interviews I did in 2008. No surprisingly, Dorothea gives a provocative, no-holds-barred interview.

  10. Ebook Business Models. (334) I was quite pleased with this post as it spurred quite a nice conversation in the comments. From 2007 but it took a while for the post to build. As well, it's a topic that people will be only more concerned with as time goes by.

A couple of honourable mentions: the tags for the 10 Years Series and Science Books both got enough hits to make the top 10 but I decided to bump them in favour of real posts. Last year's standouts, the 10 Years Series, doesn't make an appearance this year with an actual post until number 23 with the one on A&I Databases.

Top 10 Referrers
  1. Blogger / Blogs of Note. (14,102 visits) The big one. Being a Blog of Note really drives some traffic.

  2. Google. (1,801) A combination of links from Google Reader and other non-search engine google sites.

  3. Friendfeed. (574) The new elephant in the room. Quite a lot of hits considering I only joined at the end of the summer. I think a lot of people are using FF rather than RSS readers to find good content, I know I am.

  4. ScienceBlogs. (520) Mostly Bora, for whom all thanks go for supporting this blog (as well as so many other science blogs).

  5. Bloglines. (434)

  6. OEDB. (268) Even though this mention in the Top 25 Bloggers list was in September 2007, it just keeps on sending the traffic. As silly as the whole concept and execution was (and is), it's brought me over 750 hits since it was published.

  7. Computational Complexity. (240) Weird. I linked to the post and the trackback drives an awful lot of traffic.

  8. Del.icio.us. (217)

  9. Technorati. (154)

  10. Cosmic Log. (114) One of my year's best books posts got link from MSNBC's blog, but I can't find the link now.

An interesting mix of referrers. Friendfeed seems to be increasing in importance while links from individual blogs somewhat less so. The Blog of Noting seems to be a smaller version of getting Slashdotted or BoingBoinged. (I have combined some groups of sites into one number, like the various Google services.)

Top 10 Keywords

  1. best science books. (1434 visits) If people want to know what the best science books are, I'm happy to help. It seems to be a niche.

  2. Jeff Healey. (1261)

  3. Confessions of a Science Librarian. (491) Lots of people seem to be looking for me.

  4. best science books 2008. (481)

  5. science librarian. (309) I'm the number one result for this search on Google. Too bad more people aren't interested in science librarians.

  6. best science books 2007. (256)

  7. John Dupuis. (162) Yay! I'm the number one result for my name. As with the blog name, a fair number of people seem to be looking for me. Nice, but also somewhat creepy.

  8. Nerac. (161)

  9. uncomfortable questions. (89)

  10. Mamdouh Shoukri. (84) Shoukri is the presidcent of York and I did a post a while back welcoming him. I guess it's proved popular.

I've combined some (but not quite all) of the various permutations and combinations (ie. Librarian sciences, confessions science librarian, Jeff Healy) that are lower ranked in the list.

Top 5 Book Reviews

I'm only going to do the top 5 here, as I haven't reviewed enough book over the last year to make a list of 10 meaningful.
  1. Isaacson, Walter. Einstein: His Life and Universe.

  2. Wright, Alex. Glut: Mastering: Mastering information through the ages.

  3. Winchester, Simon. The map that changed the world: Willliam Smith and the birth of modern Geology.

  4. Weinberger, David. Everything is miscellaneous: The power of the new digital disorder.

  5. Ayres, Ian. Super Crunchers: Why thinking-by-numbers is the new way to be smart.

Top 5 Interviews

As with book reviews, not enough interviews to make a list of 10 worthwhile.
  1. Interview with Timo Hannay, Head of Web Publishing, Nature Publishing Group.

  2. Interview with Dorothea Salo of Caveat Lector.

  3. Interview with Bora Zivkovic, Crazy Uncle of the Science Blogging Community.

  4. Interview with Christopher Leonard, Associate Publisher of PhysMath Central.

  5. Interview with Michael Morgan of Morgan & Claypool.

Now that all the stats and lists are out of the way, I would sincerely like to thank you, all my readers out there, for your time, attention and support for this blog. I can honestly say that my primary motivation for blogging is not to attract a huge audience or to build some sort of rock star librarian reputation (and if it was, I've been doing it wrong). On the other hand, I'm not sure if I would have continued this long if I thought that no one at all was listening. As well, the opportunities that have arisen and the relationships that have sprung up have been and continue to be very important to me. I am equally grateful and appreciative of being part of the broader communities of science and librarian bloggers. The fact that you all out there are interested in what I have to say is certainly gratifying and motivating. Thanks.

January 3, 2009

I don't want to live in a world without bookstores

From the Toronto Star's Vit Wagner.

I couldn't have said it better myself:

No offence to those of you who buy all your books online, but whenever anyone asks why I invariably prefer to purchase my reading matter in a bricks-and-mortar establishment, I have one simple answer: because I don't want to live in a world without bookstores. Bookstores like Book City, Ben McNally Books, Type and Pages (my personal favourites) are not only convenient places to browse unhurriedly for literature of almost every sort, but they are also among the few retail establishments where you can go to get out of the rain and snow, or arrange to meet a friend, without being made to feel like a loitering indigent. No one is saying you have to buy all of your books in a store. Just some. Consider it part of your resolution to get out more.

I'll add Bakka and the Toronto minichain BMV to the list of bookstores. I'm a huge proponent of supporting local business ecosystems, the places that keep our communities vital and employ our family, friends and neighbours.

(A world without CD/record/music stores would be a poorer place too.)