March 14, 2007

Library Agitprop - Commentary by Cindi Trainor

.: My friend Cindi Trainor has written a passionate and well-informed piece on the future of libraries. Her observations appeared on her own site a few days ago. To a degree, Cindi picks up where Karen Scheider left off last year (see below), when she wrote statements like, "The OPAC is not the sun. The OPAC is at best a distant planet, every year moving farther from the orbit of its solar system." Cindi writes about issues that as a profession if we choose to continue to ignore, we may do so at our own potential collective peril. Endgame Librarianship, anyone?

Here is an excerpt from Cindi's post:

I first read about Karen Schneider about 10 years ago, when she was a frequent poster to (and perhaps more key, I a more frequent reader of) the web4lib listserv (remember listserves?). I found her frankly irritating and annoyingly loquacious. I cannot remember now why I had this attitude, but it got to where I was hitting the delete key anytime I saw her name.

Funny how things change...

A couple of years ago, I started seeing blog posts, magazine articles and other writings attributed to Ms. Schneider that started to resonate with me. Then she posted the famous (or perhaps forgotten, ymmv) "The User is Not Broken: the Meme Masquerading as a Manifesto." I don't think I've nodded my way more enthusiastically through a blog post since.

Yesterday, Karen Schneider wrote on ALA's Techsource blog:

It is both ironic and poignant that librarians are still worrying about “bibliographic control,” after ceding so much of the same to the companies that now rent them journal access per annum at usurious rates, digitize their book collections into DRM obscurity, or sell them ponderous, antiquated “management” systems that on close inspection do little more than serve as storehouses for the metadata specific to the formats of bygone eras, bold days when we saw our central roles as defenders and curators of our cultural heritage.


Never have I seen a more eloquent indictment of the ILS as it is today. I was going to wait until I officially leave my current employer before posting something that's really been eating at me about libraries, but I really feel compelled to weigh in, here.

Please read Cindi's entire post here; it is well worth the time to do so.

August 2, 2006

SAE and Digital Rights Management - Commentary by Larry Thompson, Virginia Tech

.: What follows is a commentary by Larry Thompson, Engineering Librarian at Virginia Tech, regarding the sever restrictions SAE is imposing on accessing its Digital Library. This is especially frustrating for those who have subscribed to the hard copy of the SAE Handbook, no longer available in print, requiring subscribers to either purchase online access to the Ground Vehicle J-Standards, or buy it on CD-ROM. CD-ROM? That is SO last century. Seriously, I have zero interest in buying reference tools in CD-ROM anymore, it's not a sustainable media, requires maintenance and updating, and unless networked, restricts the user to a single station. Completely ineffective in 2006. My take on this is that SAE has little interest in its educational and institutional customers, suchg as academic libraries. This is unfortunate, because it is we who are teaching SAE's future customers. - Randy

Larry Thompson writes:

During the past few months the new SAE DRM has caused me some concern. I've been peppering SAE with questions, and I think I've gotten the final word on most of the issues, although some are still hanging.

I have attached documents explaining the SAE position, which SAE has said are OK to release.

A conference call between librarians and SAE took place on June 20th. I was supposed to take part in the call, but wasn't available because I was at the ASEE conference. I was given a transcript of the conversation, although I don't include it here because SAE asked me not to release it.

I can say that many of the issues I was concerned with were raised by librarians during the call, such as:

  • the difference in research methodology between corporate and academic users
  • the annoyance of not being able to save SAE documents to a computer; online access is necessary to view
  • the difficulty, or impossibility, some institutions have of excluding walk-in traffic from accessing SAE
  • the concern about the license with respect to limits on the number of downloads
Here at Virginia Tech, our license will come up for renewal in October, and we're beginning to wrestle with what to do.

Do we want to spend thousands of dollars on digital format papers that users can't save to their computers? The professor who wants to read an SAE paper while jetting to Europe for a conference will need to print out the paper. He can't save it and read it on his laptop. If one publisher does this, it may not be too bad. But what if every publisher adopts this policy, and the professor wants to take 50 papers to read during the flights? It quickly becomes burdensome.

Do we want to pay roughly double the cost for a corporate license, in order to legally cover the walk-ins who might use the product, because as a land-grant university our library computers are open to the public? Many other publishers have a clause in their licenses which gives walk-ins access to material. SAE has chosen to take the opposite approach, and say that if you can't guarantee that walk-ins will be excluded, then you should get the higher priced corporate license.

Do we want to go through the hassle of loading the plug-in on computers? It's not just the ones in the library, but it will be necessary for every computer in every lab in the university that the engineering students might use. We'll also need to get the engineering faculty machines updated.

I'm still waiting to see what's happening with the SAE CD-ROM product. Up until 2002 we used that, and were quite happy with it. I was told that the CD would use something called Hexalock for DRM. I don't know what this is, or how restrictive it is.

One other observation. Elsevier tried this same technology a while back with their reference collection, and got so many complaints that they abandoned the idea. Why is it that Elsevier "gets it", and SAE doesn't? And, if SAE succeeds in implementing it with not much objection from libraries, will Elsevier (and others) be looking at the possibility of implementing the same thing?

Have fun.

Larry Thompson 540-231-8693 (Voice)
Engineering Librarian 540-231-7808 (Fax)
Virginia Tech

The documents of which Larry writes are:

April 24, 2006

D-Lib Articles of Interest

.: The latest D-Lib Magazine is out, v12 n4 April 2006. A couple of articles caught my eye.

Coming Together around Library 2.0:A Focus for Discussion and a Call to Arms
, is an opinion piece written by Dr Paul Miller, Technology Evangelist at Talis in the UK. Abstract (with links to references removed):

'Library 2.0' is a term that provides focus to a number of ongoing conversations around the changing ways that libraries should make themselves and their services visible to end users and to one another. Through white papers, articles, blog posts, podcasts, presentations and more, at Talis we are taking part in this increasingly global conversation. Library 2.0 is more, though, than just a stimulus to conversation. The phrase captures notions of disruptive change, and promises to challenge both the ways in which we consider our library services and the forms in which they are offered to potential beneficiaries.
Libraries and the Long Tail: Some Thoughts about Libraries in a Network Age, is from Lorcan Dempsey, Vice President, Research, and Chief Strategist of OCLC, and creator of Lorcan Dempsey's Weblog. The opening paragraph reads:

Discussions of the long tail that I have seen or heard in the library community strike me as somewhat partial. Much of that discussion is about how libraries contain deep and rich collections, and about how their system-wide aggregation represents a very long tail of scholarly and cultural materials (a system may be at the level of a consortium, or a state, or a country). However, I am not sure that we have absorbed the real relevance of the long tail argument, which is about how well supply and demand are matched in a network environment. It is not enough for materials to be present within the system: they have to be readily accessible ('every reader his or her book', in Ranganathan's terms), potentially interested readers have to be aware of them ('every book its reader'), and the system for matching supply and demand has to be efficient ('save the time of the user')

February 23, 2006

U California Rethinks Its Role in the Information Marketplace

.: This is worth the read, short in length and deep in content. U Cal's Bibliographic Services Task Force completed a review of the services provided by the U Cal library system. The executive summary of the report, titled "Rethinking How We Provide Bibliographic Services for the University of California", outlines the issue (excerpt):

Society is in the midst of learning how to “be” in the information age. The advent of computers and the inclusion of the Web in our work and private lives have pushed innovations and embraced information and access in ways we can hardly imagine. We are living in a complex and challenging digital landscape that changes constantly. On the Library front, our bibliographic systems have not kept pace with this changing environment. The continuing proliferation of formats, tools, services, and technologies has upended how we arrange, retrieve, and present our holdings. Our users expect simplicity and immediate reward and Amazon, Google, and iTunes are the standards against which we are judged. Our current systems pale beside them.

Continue reading "U California Rethinks Its Role in the Information Marketplace" »

February 16, 2006

Richard Akerman - Paved Paradise: The Future Of (A Particular Type Of) Research Library

.: Richard Akerman offers another very interesting and thought provoking post on the future of research libraries, this one in reaction to the responses he received to his original post. Excerpt:

In all references to "library" below, I am talking ONLY about a library that serves solely a research community in the anti-social :) sciences: physics, chemistry, computer science, nanotechnology, biotechnology, genetics, astrophysics, ... I think you get the idea. Not a public library, not a university/academic library. It is purely total coincidence that I happen to work at a library that meets that exact description...

And no, I'm not a librarian. Former Computer Science and Physics grad student, current Enterprise Architect. As an Enterprise Architect, I worry about achieving strategic business target state, which for my organization is currently mapped out to 2010. That involves, amongst other things, considering transformational technologies that may present a risk of say, the entire organization no longer existing in 2010.

Below is the comment I submitted to his blog in response to his post:
Apologies for incorrectly spelling your name in my post on STLQ. It has been corrected.

I think you're being hard on those of us who chose to respond to your post, which I found to be thoughtful and challenging. You note that "The other thing I found very striking about the response to my posting is that I held out transformational hope: be an institutional repository, be a data centre, provide advanced research workflow services and... not a single person responded to these ideas. As I read it, the general tone was in the "we currently provide great service, we will continue to provide the same service, all will continue forever into the research library future..." No one talked about the transformational possibilities at all." That none of us responded to your transformational hope doesn't mean none of us agrees with it or doesn't share the same concern. We need to transform what we do on a daily if not hourly basis; this is often easier said than done, given the various restraints within our own institutions, often defined by ambiguity and uncertainty. It's all changing, all the time.

The one thing that I found missing in your original post was consideration for the human factor. You wrote, "Research libraries on the other hand, don't play any of these roles. There is no public to serve. There is no community meeting place role. There are no confused or desperate undergrads to help." To me, this is the utopian virtual research library, where none of its users is confused or has difficulty searching for data, articles, patents, standards, conference papers, what have you. I don't know if such a clientele for such a library exists. As far as I know, my colleagues and I, here at the U of Alberta, and at other academic or research libraries, deal with a regular stream of confused or desparate grad students, faculty, post-docs, and research associates on a daily basis! :-) In reality, very few fit such an unforgiving description, but you know what I mean.

You write, "In all references to "library" below, I am talking ONLY about a library that serves solely a research community in the anti-social :) sciences: physics, chemistry, computer science, nanotechnology, biotechnology, genetics, astrophysics, ... I think you get the idea. Not a public library, not a university/academic library. It is purely total coincidence that I happen to work at a library that meets that exact description... " I'm assuming you don't mean anti-social in the traditional sense, but rather in the practical sense. Is this indeed how CISTI's library works? Is there no social role in CISTI's library service?

Understand that I find this fascinating, given that I am now working as the Research Services Librarian for NRC's National Institute for Nanotechnology, on the U of Alberta campus, which means I now have access to all of CISTI's online resources. While I have been working in this position for only three days, I am already sensing that there are some researchers who are comfortable with what access they have to whatever online material they need, whereas there are others who rely on the web, short of the time to do deeper mining into the available resources, but very open to assistance and guidance. Additionally, in either camp, there are major e-resources of which they are not aware exist, now are they aware that they have access to them as well. The real surprise for me so far has been CISTI's e-resources. I was not aware that there is no subject or keyword breakdown of the databases, encyclopedias, etc. Maybe I need to dig a bit deeper myself, but at first glance, it wasn't obvious to me.

Without the human factor, the future completely digitized anti-social research library might as well be serving automatons, replicants or robots. Darla's comment on the LIS post, which summed up the issue for you, really concerns me: "I have found things that they have been doing incorrectly, that have been effecting their productivity and dissemination of their work, and have tried to bring these things to their attention, but they just don't care. They don't care if they do it right or not." Um...hello? If this is true, what does that suggest about the credibility of her research organization? How would other scholars, researchers, faculty, and so forth, working in nano-whatever, think of NINT or any other NRC institute if the researchers there didn't care if they did it right or not, especially regarding the productivity and dissemination of their work? I've worked with engineering faculty and students here at the U of Alberta for 22+ years, and believe me, they care about whether they do it right or not. Three days into my NINT experience, it is my strong sense that the same philosophy applies there as well.

Just my two cents from the Canadian west. Thanks for kicking the dust up about the future of what we do.

February 15, 2006

Richard Akerman On The Obsolesence of the Research Library

.: Richard Akerman, of Science Library Pad, is stirring things with his recent entry, "Is the research library obsolete":

  • scientific communication takes place through articles, whether pre-prints or post-prints, journal published or conference presented
  • most articles of scientific value will be subjected to peer review of some form
  • publisher websites provide acceptable access to articles, linked together online
  • articles are also brief enough to be conveniently downloaded (and then typically printed)
Types of library:
  • public library - provides access for general public to books (and secondarily to other published materials as well as transient formats like CDs, video cassettes, DVDs)
  • academic library - provides access for university community to books and academic journals
  • research library - provides access for researchers to books and academic journals
I assert that they public library still has some role to play as a community centre, and also because books are not (yet) convenient in electronic format.

Academic libraries have a role to play because undergrads don't know anything. Every year there are undergrads who need guidance, and the academic library is there to help them. Also, it is a good place to escape roommates, or find new potential bedmates.

Research libraries on the other hand, don't play any of these roles. There is no public to serve. There is no community meeting place role. There are no confused or desperate undergrads to help. So shouldn't a research library just

  1. digitize and index all of its current (out of copyright) paper holdings, and then send the paper into storage in some climate-controlled cave somewhere
  2. provide good licensed access to the necessary publisher websites for its researchers
  3. close down
Does anyone disagree that the traditional role of a research library, that of providing local convenient access to scientific publications, is erased by the presence of publisher websites on the Internet? That being the case, what value is left for research libraries to add? Researchers don't need (or want) the guidance or handholding that undergrads require. Is there anything left for the research library other than inventing new roles for itself? I can only see three roles that make sense:
  1. institutional repository for pre-prints and post-prints of the research organization's publications
  2. data repository for the research conducted at the organization
  3. providing advanced (data/publication/information/discovery/etc.) tools that integrate into the researcher's workflow
The first two roles are very much aligned with library and archiving roles, but may still require a bit of a revolution in how the organization sees itself. To put it more concisely, either your research library becomes part of the E-Science Cyberinfrastructure, or it gets paved over.

How is your research library dealing with this challenge? Have I missed something?

This is a though-provoking post, and the entry on Richard's site has received quite a few passionate comments so far. In one of the comments, he notes, "Yes, I am basically defining research library as a type of special library that serves mainly or exclusively a natural sciences researcher community." This definition is rather narrow to me. Perhaps in this context there is merit to considering Richard's points, but for the sake of argument, why limit the definition to natural sciences? Where does that leave engineering, pure science (physics, chemistry, mathematics), or agricultural research libraries? But Richard states that his argument centres around a very specific kind of library: "Again, I'm making a very specific argument about a very specialized type of library. I'm talking about a research library that supports primarily researchers in the natural sciences. I'm not talking about research library in the same sense that the British Library is a research library. I do agree that researchers in many, many topic areas may use books. I disagree that e.g. particle physicists, chemists, and geneticists are going to be using books (rare or otherwise) heavily as they either plan their research, conduct experiments, or keep up with their field. "

The library in which I work, the Science and Technology Library at the University of Alberta, is an academic library supporting teaching and research in Agricuture, Forestry and Home Economics, Science, and Engineering. If I restrict my observations only to the use of our collections by researchers (not undergrads) in the natural sciences (which I consider to be earth and atmospheric science, zoology, botany, entomology, microbiology, genetics), but also include physics, chemistry and mathematical sciences (which I consider to be the pure sciences, so to speak), I would have to disagree that the research library is obsolete.

Continue reading "Richard Akerman On The Obsolesence of the Research Library" »

January 30, 2006

Wake Up, Fellow Librarians: The Sky is Falling! - Commentary by Cindi Trainor

.: I am pleased to welcome my good friend and colleague, Cindi Trainor, IT Librarian at Honnold/Mudd Library, The Libraries of The Claremont Colleges to STLQ. Cindi offers a brief commentary on a recent article by Jerry Campbell, Chief Information Officer and University Librarian of USC. She describes her piece as "not a full-on response to the article, but rather an invitation for discussion with our colleagues", and I agree. I hope you find the time to read Campbell's article, and join in the discussion. Cindi writes:

Two recent publications with potentially far-reaching consequences for academic libraries have been greeted by that segment of the library world with silence. One is OCLC's Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources, to which STLQ alerted readers in December of last year; the other is a recent Educause Review article by USC's CIO and library director, Jerry Campbell, titled "Changing a cultural icon: the academic library as a virtual destination." (HTML version, PDF version.) In it, Campbell asserts that academic libraries are "relinquishing" their "historical" role, that of repository of "authoritative" information, in the face of projects like Google Print and Yahoo's Open Content Alliance. Campbell further asserts that academic libraries need a new mission, and that services that have grown out of our original missions, such as creative and collaborative use of library space, providing metadata, virtual reference and providing information literacy instruction, are not enough to constitute that new mission nor to ensure the future of academic libraries or even librarians.

It's very hard not to react to this article defensively. Take, for example, this quote: "...simply asking questions about the future of libraries, let alone working to transform them for the digital age, almost inevitably evokes anguished, poignant, and even hostile reponses filled with nostalgia for a near-mythical institution." Any librarian invested in his or her job would react negatively to that statement. But it's important not to have another knee-jerk, claws-out reaction that have been typical of us lately (does the phrase "radical, militant librarians" ring any bells for my fellow American librarians?). Yes, we would welcome the opportunity to change proactively rather than reactively; yes, we would welcome the opportunity to get our jobs done without having to worry about justifying our future, but Campbell raises some valid points and does so to an audience that has the potential to help us plan our futures. I won't go so far as to say that he's thrown down the gauntlet, but it's our responsibility to engage our academic colleagues in planning for the future of our libraries.

My final point has to do with the scope of the article. Campbell lumps all academic libraries--public, private, large, small, liberal arts, research--into one amorphous dinosaur. I would argue, from the perspective of a librarian at a small, private, liberal arts institution, that the person-to-person interaction that Campbell claims "does not scale" to the web is at the heart of most liberal arts colleges, that perhaps the accusation that he levels is more accurately aimed at large research institutions where by virtue of sheer numbers, one-on-one interaction is a smaller part of an individual's experience.

I'm tired of listening to the crickets. What say you, librarians?

January 23, 2006

Engineering: The Changing Information Landscape - Roddy MacLeod

.: The latest issue (.pdf) of FreePint, #198, 19th January 2006, features a short piece by Roddy MacLeod, titled “Engineering: the changing information landscape”. Excerpt:

My first FreePint article on engineering portals appeared back in issue No. 66 (6th July 2000). Quite a number of things have changed since that time. The first part of this article revisits some of the resources I shared back then. The second section is an analysis of some useful engineering-related digital repositories which have emerged over the past five years. Finally, the third section comments on the changing engineering information landscape.
One observation that fascinated me is how the major engineering domains of the past have changed or disappeared altogether. This is definitely worth the read.

May 24, 2005

ISTL / Cites & Insights

:: The latest issue of ISTL, Issues in Science & Technology Libraries, n42, Spring 2005, is available. The theme of the issue is open access, and features articles on the publication dilemma of scientific research, the importance and benefits of open access, source and standards for libraries, and global access to Indian research. Also included is a review of CSA's Technology Research Database.

:: Cites & Insights, v5 n8 June 2005, is now available.

More on Chemical Market Reporter

:: Brian Gray, creator of e³ Information Overload - E-Resources in Engineering Education (a blog of which I was not aware), reported the following on CHMINF-L:

I have been working with CMR to get electronic access for my patrons. They have finally worked out the process and asked me to share the newest information. They are eager to hear comments and concerns as they offer this new access. The contact information is included in their announcement.

SPECIAL UNLIMITED ACADEMIC ONLINE ACCESS RATE FOR CMR - ONLY US$415 Access to CMR online will give you: Free online access to the current issue of CMR every Monday morning. So you can read it first - incisive analysis of chemical news and information from the US and globally. With highly respected editorial, expert analysis of the whole industry and dedicated financial coverage.

Free, unlimited search access to our online archive, giving you instantly the chemicals information you need from an entire year's issues of CMR.

Online Pricing Guide - carrying an extensive A to Z listing of over 500 chemical prices. This listing is the most comprehensive and up-to-date, an essential reference tool for any chemical executive.

To get your special rate of unlimited users/ buildings at US$415 or to find out about single access call:
Connie Magner
Subscriptions Sales - ICIS publications
Tel: +44 20 8652 4775

I appreciate Brian's work to help get this sorted out, but I find CMR's solution a poor one. The academic and college libraries already subscribing to the print edition of Chemical Market Reporter are being asked to fork over another $415US (~$525CN) to get online access to something we've paid for in print for years. CMR extracts content from the print edition, moves it online, and wants more money for it? Also, will the archive of chemical prices be available for one year only? How will faculty and students working on research projects requiring historical or retrospective prices find this information otherwise? Professor Jakob Zabicky of the Institutes for Applied Research at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, responded on CHMINF-L accordingly:
The apology for CMR seems rather strange. All the goodies offered by electronic-CMR for only $415 may be Delikatessen for "any chemical executive". We used to get them in print for $190 without the frills, which are of low value in academy. So, if ICIS publications reads this, let them know we won't renew the subscription, if not, they'll become aware in due time.
I would tend to agree. The impression we are getting is that CMR isn't aware of the importance and value of its chemical pricing content to students, researchers and faculty. After so many decades of publication, this is rather astonishing. Ben Wagner, U Buffalo, followed Prof Zabicky's comment with one of his own:
Though it does not include the price listing any more, we have depended on third party aggregators for CMR articles as follows:

from 01/27/1992 to present in ABI/INFORM Global
from 11/04/1996 to present in Business ASAP and InfoTrac OneFile

So I would cancel the print subscription if we had one, and I am indeed not happy about loss of access to pricing information.

I agree. I have not heard back from the Editor-In-Chief, Helga Tilton, since she called me on May 19th. For now, I am still willing to give CMR the benefit of the doubt. I hope they bring the prices back to the paper copy, at least on a monthly basis, so that there will be archival access in print, and via the aggregator dbs mentioned above by Ben. And I hope they solve this soon.

May 19, 2005

Chemical Market Reporter and Chemical Prices - An Editorial Response

:: Chemical Market Reporter dropped the "People and Prices" section from its print contents with the v267 n13, 28 March-3 April 2005 issue. This was reported on CHMINF-L by David Flaxbart (which generateed considerable response), and was followed with a rant of my own on this site.

Afterwards, I waited until we received the paper copy of the issue in question. After examining it and confirming the absence of chemical prices within, I sent a note to faculty members in the Depts of Chemical and Materials Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering at the University of Alberta, as follows:

Hello to everyone in Chemical and Materials Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering. I don't know if you are aware, but with the v267 n13 28 March-3 April 2005 issue, Chemical Market Reporter switched from a tabloid format to a slick magazine format, and removed their weekly chemical prices from the issues. The "People and Prices" section is now available online only, and requires a subscription-based username and password.

As a result, students and researchers no longer have access to the weekly chemical prices. In the engineering library world, we are astonished at this development. Thousands of chemical, materials and mechanical engineering students in universities and colleges regularly use CMR to find chemical prices for their design projects (among other research) - this is no longer possible with CMR's new editorial policy.

I recently wrote a column on chemical and petroleum prices for the SLA Chemistry Division E-Newsletter, entitled A Brief Guide To Finding Chemical and Petroleum Prices and Other Statistical Information (p4-5). The article was set for publication when CMR made its change, and I was able to append my entry, lamenting the loss of access to this very valuable and essential resource.

The editor of CMR, Helga Tilton, welcomes feedback on the new format. Her e-mail address is helga.tilton AT My guess is that CMR does not focus on educational institutions, but on the industry primarily, and did not take into account the impact of this decision. I urge you to contact her to express your views regarding this change, which many of my colleagues and I view as a step backwards.
Following my e-mail, a post-doctorate fellow in our Dept of Chemical and Materials Engineering responded with a passionate e-mail to Ms Tilton, expressing her concern that it is now impossible for the average science and engineering student or researcher to access chemical prices. I was very happy to receive her support to get the chemical prices reinstated or made accessible to our students and researchers.

So imagine my surprise as my phone rang yesterday, and when I answered it, Ms Helga Tilton, Editor-in-Chief of Chemical Market Reporter, was on the other end of the line! She told me she had just finished speaking at length with the chemical engineering researcher, Dr Christina Faitakis, and wanted to speak to me as well. We had a candid and frank discussion about how critical it is to students, scientists, researchers and engineers in education institutions to have access to weekly chemical prices. I explained how our engineering students work in teams on their design projects, and cited examples of why chemical prices are a key component of these projects.

Another point is one I continue to hammer home with Standards Developing Organizations, which is this: it is critical for trade publications like Chemical Market Reporter to remember that the students in universities and colleges who make use of their publications on an ongoing basis are their future customers. While the number of educational subscriptions may pale in comparison to the number from industry, the impact of a publication like CMR on students is just as critical as with front-line engineers.

Ms Tilton was very receptive to our concerns, welcomed our feedback, and was pleased that we cared enough to respond to the change in policy. I told her I was extremely grateful that she would take the time to respond personally to our concern with a phone call. She told me that CMR is looking a couple of options regarding chemical prices: return the prices to the print edition, but on a monthly basis, and/or make the online "People and Prices" section available in an IP-protected environment without the need for an ID and PW. Neither option is guaranteed, but at least CMR is considering this, and that is all we can ask. Regarding the latter, there is also the concern about archiving the pricing data, and also, how would one cite the section if it only exists online, and is not part of the paper issue?

This morning, another University of Alberta chemical engineering professor wrote to Ms Tilton in support of this issue. To librarians in similar subject environments, please consider advising your faculty members of this development, and encourage them to write to Ms Tilton if they are so moved. Maybe we can make a difference.

May 18, 2005

Two Fascinating Posts From Sitelines

:: Rita Vine, of, writes and maintains the weblog, Sitelines - Ideas About Web Searching. Two recent entries on Sitelines are worth mentioning here.

"Two Articles on the Negative Impacts of Technology" links to the April 2005 issue of CIT InfoBits, to a post called Read EMail, Lose IQ Points? The CIT entry in turn links to two pieces. The first is a press release from Hewlett-Packard, "Abuse of technology can reduce UK workers� intelligence", which reports on research revealing that 62% of adults are addicted to checking messages while away from the office or on holidays. Also of interest is this:

In a series of tests carried out by Dr Glenn Wilson, Reader in Personality at the Institute of Psychiatry, University of London, an average worker�s functioning IQ falls ten points when distracted by ringing telephones and incoming emails. This drop in IQ is more than double the four point drop seen following studies on the impact of smoking marijuana.
The other piece mentioned in the April 2005 issue of CIT Infobits refers to the article, "Knowing When to Log Off" by Jeffrey Young (The Chronicle of Higher Education, vol. 51, issue 33, p. A34, April 22, 2005). Young quotes David M Levy, U Washington Information School:""We're losing touch with the contemplative roots of scholarship, the reflective dimension . . . . When you think that universities are meant to be in effect the think tanks for the culture, or at least one of the major forms of thinking, that strikes me as a very serious concern." It's an analysis of information overload caused by email, blogs, and websites, and the negative effect these can have on scholary research.

The other post from Sitelines is rather ironic, given what I just posted above this paragraph, and is fuel for further study, discussion, discourse, and beyond. The entry is called "If Weblogs Have Limited Impact on Public Discourse, Should We Bother Reading Them?", and is worth reprinting here:

As part of an online course that I teach on keeping current in library science, the class is asked to search and identify weblogs that are valuable for professional reading. It's amazing how uniform the class's feedback has been about how little most weblogs add to either knowledge or discourse. Most weblog watchers will agree that the VAST majority of weblogs (not just in library science, but pretty well any topic) simply restate news and information, without much analysis from individual weblog writers.

So it's particularly interesting that the latest research from Pew Internet, titled "BUZZ, BLOGS, AND BEYOND: The Internet and the National Discourse in the Fall of 2004" concurs with my students' informal findings. Despite the current buzz out there promoting blogs as the "new" journalism, and ascribing to bloggers the power to influence the world's take on events, Pew's findings suggest otherwise. Instead, the report suggests that any evidence that bloggers affect decision-makers is circumstantial; and that bloggers are as much "buzz-followers" as they are "buzz-makers".

Although this is early-stage research, the results beg the question -- should serious searchers bother searching the blog literature? Sure, there are a dozen or more blog search tools (e.g. Bloglines), and some meta-search tools (e.g. are devoting parts of their meta-search tabs to blog search tools. But really, if the content is so lacklustre and barely differentiated from the other noise on the web, is blog searching worth the effort?

Food for thought? I love the mention that most blogs simply restate information and news, without much analysis from the writers. Fair enough, but in many cases, that may be the function of the blog. Consider the first entry: I linked to Rita's post, which linked to the CIT Infobits post, which in turn linked to the Hewlett-Packard and Chronicle of Higher Education posts - in effect, my post is three steps from the original items of interest. But if I wasn't subscribing to Rita's site via Watch That Page, I wouldn't have necessarily learned about these items.

With exceptions like this one, most entries in The SciTech Library Question are, I hope, of interest to those working in science and technology libraries. Most of what I post is information from elsewhere, but I also write short reviews and rants, like the recent one on Chemical Market Reporter.

That Rita's library science class finds little on library-related weblogs of value as "professional reading" doesn't surprise me, nor do I think it should be cause for alarm. The weblog is one more way to communicate, and in one sense, levels the playing field for participants. Finding the gems is the hard part. It's also worth noting that the Pew report cited in Sitelines "studied the impact of political blogs on the national agenda during the last two months of the 2004 presidential campaign."

The only thing that never changes is the number of hours in the day.

May 3, 2005

Cites & Insights May 2005

:: The v7 n7 May 2005 issue of Walt Crawford's entertaining and thought-provoking Cites & Insights is now available.

April 12, 2005

Cindi Trainor on The Changing Balance

:: My good friend Cindi Trainor, techie-librarian at Claremont Colleges in CA and #1 U2 fan in America, has written a timely post on what she describes as "the changing balance". She ever so cogently describes what so many of us dealing with these days. She suggests that the problem "stems from taking on too much, from not letting go of (or transforming) the traditional when implementing the cutting edge, and I haven't the slightest idea what the remedy is." I agree. Cindi continues with the following:

At this year's Computers in Libraries conference, Clifford Lynch spoke of the era of "abundance" that we are in, particularly as it applies to information. The same concept was cogently written about in Educause Review by Paul Gandel, Richard Katz, and Susan Metros, in their article titled "The 'Weariness of the Flesh': Reflections of the Mind in an Era of Abundance" [PDF]. A colleague of mine suggested today that perhaps the "information overload" that we all feel couldn't be dissipated somewhat by changing our attitudes--we're not overloaded, we just have a *lot*. I'm not so sure. The problem that she speaks of, and of which I am also a victim, stems from taking on too much, from not letting go of (or transforming) the traditional when implementing the cutting edge, and I haven't the slightest idea what the remedy is. [See my earlier post, "Confessions of a Drowning Librarian." It's comforting to know that it's a crowded sea.]

What I sat down to write about this afternoon is not the idea of abundance but of a changing balance. Twenty, even ten years ago, librarians assumed that nearly anyone showing up at a service point was in need of information that they, the librarians, had, and that the patrons needed assistance and instruction in finding. It was our jobs to teach students and others the skills they needed to ferret out important information hidden within our moldering tomes and command-driven databases. For the first time, with the "Net Generation" (which I like much better than "Millennials," ugh), users are showing up at our service points already knowing how to use a vast array of technologies that still intimidates many librarians (and library IT staff). How is this increase in our users' knowledge affecting reference transactions? I'm only postulating here, since I don't "do" reference in the traditional, desk-bound sense, but I would guess that for some users and librarians, things are different than several years ago. I'll let my colleagues and friends who actually "do" reference articulate how. This is just a ... vibe I've been getting.

I still work the info desk during term, but off-site, in the Engineering bldg. My experience so far is that the ever-increasing tech savvy of students hasn't affected the nature of the reference transaction, but the numbers of said transactions are dropping as more students make use of all the online product we push to their desktop. But I also like the observation that "we just have a *lot*", because that's the simple truth. The only thing that hasn't changed, as our work and play choices continue to grow in numbers at a geometric pace is the number of hours in the day - it's still 24, dudes. I suffer from the same problem - I don't know what to permanently offload and let lie dormant indefinitely...

April 6, 2005

April 2005 Cites & Insights

:: I finally spelled it correctly from the outset! The v5 n6 April 2005 issue of Cites & Insights is available.

March 29, 2005

Cites & Incites Insights

:: I am obviously having trouble keeping up with Walt Crawford. I missed noting the v5 n2: Midwinter 2005 issue of Cites & Incites Insights, which appeared between January and February. When you are finished with that issue, check out the v5 n5: Spring 2005 issue as well. BTW, Walt, please consider changing the name, because quite obviously, I have a mental block with the title as it is now. ;-)

February 28, 2005

Cites & Incites

:: The March 2005 Cites & Incites from Walt Crawford is available for your perusal.

January 6, 2005

Cites & Insights, Ethics & Zines

:: The v5 n1 January 2004 (pdf) issue of Cites & Incites: Crawford At Large, is now available. Walt discusses an interesting thread on ethics and librarians who blog, first raised by Karen Schneider at Free Range Librarian. In her first post on the subject, Schneider wrote:

For some time I've grumbled and groused about the practices of librarian bloggers. Too many of us want to be considered serious citizen-journalists, when it suits us, but fall back on "hey, it's only a blog" when we'd rather post first and fact-check later, present commentary as "news," or otherwise fall short of the guidelines of the real profession of journalism. (This is doubly ironic, considering how librarians squeal when people without library degrees claim to practice "librarianship.")
My reaction: I do not in any way, shape or fashion, consider myself a serious citizen-journalist, and while I don't tend to fact check much, that's because most of the stuff posted here hasn't required me to do so. That said, I am careful as I can be not to post information that might be considered irrelevant those who visit this site, nor would I post something I thought might include incorrect information or data. Karen continues in another post:
I'll repeat my concern that librarians, in particular, need to be very cautious when they blog. This is a meta-ethical issue: when you blog as a librarian, even as a librarian "just goofin' around," you are representing what people think about librarians. Yes, that weight IS on your shoulders. You know how you hate it when we're represented as frumpy, meek shushers? I'm with you, but I hate it even more when our own kind represents us as clueless, sloppy, and uninterested in the ethical issues related to the world of information and how it is represented. In the same vein, I love it when I read a blog such as Tame the Web or Shifted Librarian, where I can catch the enthusiasm, real-world observations, and yes, opinion of Michael Stephens and Jenny Levine, presented with a minimum of typos, a maximum of style, and a certain je ne sais quois--that friendly, fact-based, service-oriented approach--I'd call "library flavor."
While reactions to Karen's posts have been divided, I appreciate that she has raised an issue that is at the very least, a reality check for those of us who blog on behalf or, and thus representing, our profession.

In an unrelated note, Walt discusses the beginnings of Cites & Incites, and how at the time, he termed it a "zine":

I started calling Cites & Insights a zine because it isnt a newsletter, its certainly not a blog, and it fits my own historic definition of a zine (based on the old days of science fiction): a nonprofessional or semi-professional periodical based on one persons (or small groups) enthusiasms and reflecting that persons style.
I was pleased that Walt referenced the term "zine", or more correctly, "fanzine", for purely selfish reasons. I published my first sf fanzine in 1969, and confess that I've been less than thrilled with the co-opting of the term "zine", to reflect amateur publications of a literary or artistic nature, as Walt mentions subsequently. Fanzines as published by sf afficianados can be traced back to the 1930s. (Fact check: don't believe me? Check out The Immortal Storm by Sam Moskowitz, which chronicles the rise and history of science fiction fandom in the 1930s.)

OK, now back to posting stuff of interest to science and technology librarians...

September 27, 2004

Canada's Innovation Deficit

:: Michael Geist, Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law, University of Ottawa, has written a through-provoking and timely article in the Toronto Star about the innovation deficit in Canada. Next week in Canada, the Governor General will deliver the Speech From The Throne to begin the fall session in the Canadian House of Commons. Geist writes:

While the government will likely propose a plan to avoid a fiscal deficit, there are two other Canadian deficits that merit its attention as well. This week's column addresses one of these Canada's innovation deficit. The federal and provincial governments urgently need to adopt policies that foster innovation by increasing access to, and dissemination of, cutting-edge Canadian knowledge and research in order to correct the imbalance between dollars spent on research and educational materials and the corresponding outputs to the Canadian research and education communities.
Geist outlines three issues he believes need to be addressed. Concerning dissemination of publicly funded research, he advocates an open-access model:
Late last month, a group of Nobel prize winners in the United States (which faces the same dilemma) issued a public letter calling on their government to link public research funding with public dissemination of the results. Canada should jump at the chance to adopt a similar model that would tie free, public dissemination to all publicly funded research. Such an approach would still leave room to commercialize the research results, while providing Canadians with an unprecedented innovation opportunity and a more immediate return on its research granting investment.

Continue reading "Canada's Innovation Deficit" »

September 10, 2004

University Research vs Patents; Commons vs Anti-Commons

:: The following commentary from Bob Buntrock appeared on CHMINF-L on 9 Sept 2004. Many participants in the discussion group have since responded to the posting..

I've commented previously on either or both of these lists on the topic of the "Greening of Academia", viz. the trend towards more extensive patenting and licensing of academic research. My original concerns were more along the line of acquisition -- and costs -- of information in support of the P&L process as opposed to similar activities in support of teaching and research. However, the scope of the discussion is being broadened to challenges to the Research University P&L in general.

A recent Policy Forum paper in Science (Y. Benkler, "Commons-Based Strategies and the Problems of Patents", vol. 305, 1110-1111, Aug. 20, 2004) compares the patent system in general and Commons-based systems. Quotes include "...economic theory is ambivalent about the effects of patents on welfare and innovation. Empirical evidence suggests that patents are important in few industries, mostly pharmaceutical." This trend in criticism parallels that arising in conjunction with the availability of pharmaceuticals, not only in 3rd world countries, but to at least some customers in the US.

I think that discussions of these topics are overdue in a number of forums (fora?) including meetings of ACS, PIUG (Patent Information User Group), etc. Topics to be considered include costs and support of P&L in academia (esp. information access), Commons vs. both copyright/publishing and patents (validity of P&L in academia), and other topics. Within ACS, cooperation of CINF, Div. of Chem and the Law (CHAL), and ACS operating Divisions would seem appropriate.

-- Bob Buntrock
Buntrock Associates, Inc.

August 4, 2004

E-Books in Engineering Reference Work

:: Paul Teague, National Editor of Design News, writes in a 19 July 2004 column of how Knovel is changing the way engineers are using reference books. Teague notes:

Knovel's move is an extension of what other engineering websites have done. GlobalSpec (, for example, leads engineers to 10,000 catalogs, 40,000 material data sheets, and 50,000 application notes, while has 67,000 product categories on its website. Kellysearch (, with about 1.2 million visitors per month worldwide, includes listings from about 765,000 U.S. companies. But Knovel actually has the reference books' contents directly on its site. Among the titles: McGraw-Hill classics such as The Electromechanical Design Handbook, Dimensoning and Tolerancing Handbook, and Roark's Formulas for Stress and Strain, as well as books from Elsevier and material from professional associations, such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The company says the contents add up amount to about $142,000 worth of materialthe amount of all the hard-copy books.
I agree with Teague - the Knovel package is a good one, and many engineers, researchers, scientists and students on our campus are still learning about the database.

Many of Knovel's titles include productivity tools, including features such as interactive tables, tables with equation plotters, graph digitizers, tables with graph plotter, chemical structure search, spectra viewer, phase diagram viewer, and excel spreadsheets. Teague notes this as well:

Knovel also points to the interactive nature of the content as a big plus. For example, all the graphs are interactive. View the content in HTML or PDF form, then put your mouse on a curve, and you get the data point. Tables are interactive too; click on them and they morph into a form you can merge into a spreadsheet. And equations solve themselves when you enter the variables. One reviewer compared the experience to a computer game, saying it was actually fun to do the calculations.

I would add that for high quality content, the CRCnetBASE databases such as ENGnetBASE, ENVIROnetBASE and CHEMnetBASE are of comparable importance. Libraries able to afford both Knovel and one or more CRCnetBASE dbs are providing their users with a large majority of the major handbooks in engineering and related disciplines.

One way to increase the use of important e-reference books is to embed them into resource guides. Examples of guides I've created, into which I've embedded selected e-reference books, include mechanical engineering, materials science & engineering, chemical engineering, and nanoscience & nanotechnology.

May 28, 2004

Electrochemical Journals, AIP's Scitation, Cost-Effectiveness - Commentary by Dana Roth

:: Nearly 40 years ago, in my first library job, I overheard The Electrochemical Society (ECS) disparaged as a 'Neanderthal' society, which might explain the initial popularity of the commercially published Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry (JEC), Electrochimica Acta (ECA) and Journal of Power Sources (JPS). This characterization certainly hasn't been true for many years(1) and, with the 2003 annual costs of JEC (nearly $10K for less than 4K pages), ECA over $3.6K (for less than 4.4K pages) & JPS (over $3.3K for about 4500 pages), one is hard pressed not to ruminate on the cost/page data, for these commercially published journals, compared with the Journal of The Electrochemical Society (JES), which was priced at only $692 for about 5400 pages.

The transition of the electronic versions of the ECS research journals -- JES & Electrochemical and Solid State Letters (ESL)-- in 2004 to AIP's new Scitation publishing platform (formerly OJPS), is very welcome news(2). Scitation currently includes 110 journals from 18 STM publishers, providing both forward and backward reference linking from over 600,000 articles (growing at a rate of 6,000 per month). Journals can be browsed by title, publisher or subject category. A wide variety of features for individualization are available (e.g. MyTOCAlerts) and new features are scheduled for 2004. Keyword searching of SPIN + Scitation articles is available for library or personal subscribers, with keyword searching of Scitation abstracts freely available with registration. Scitation's publisher list currently includes the expected (e.g. AIP journals, etc.) as well as: APS, ASCE, ASME, ACS Geochem. Div., ECS, ICDD, Maik Nauka, SPIE, etc. Fulltext articles can be displayed, by subscribers, as PDFs, HTML or sectioned HTML.

Continue reading "Electrochemical Journals, AIP's Scitation, Cost-Effectiveness - Commentary by Dana Roth" »

May 24, 2004

Rush Hour on the Information Superhighway

:: To feed my personal NYC obsession, I subscribe to Time Out New York. Although it arrives in my mailbox anywhere from 3-5 weeks after publication, I look forward to each issue. While its content keeps me up-to-date on All Things Pop Culture and All Things NYC, there are always well-written articles that pique my interest and result in further investigation on my part. In many cases, the articles are not necessarily NYC-centric either.

A recent example is the article, "Rush Hour on the Information Superhighway", by Clive Thompson, which appeared in Issue No. 445 April 815, 2004.

A funny thing happened on the road to utopia. The Information Age promised greater efficiency, allowing us to explore new worlds online and enjoy more free time. Instead, we're working longer hours and feeling more stressed as we drown in a tsunami of e-mail, blogs and Google searches. And nowhere is this pressure to stay connected more prevalent than in mediacentric New York.
Thompson succinctly addresses information bombardment and overload, focusing on four aspects: e-mail and spam, Google and googling, blogs, and TiVo (which, btw, isn't available in Canada yet). As librarians and information specialists, we are bombarded with information from many sides every day. How do we deal with it? Often, we don't - some, if not all of it flows over us like water off the back of a duck. We process a little of it. But being librarians, when we search for information we should know where and when to stop, and Thompson very correctly nails this in his discussion of searching:
That's another conundrum of our age: New technologies seem only to amp up our desire for more. Consider Google. It is by all accounts an informational godsend. But since it offers hundreds of hits for even the most quixotic query, many people have no idea when to stop parsing the endless results, says Joseph Janes, chair of library and information science at the University of Washington's Information School, who teaches a graduate seminar on the site and its impact on the culture. "It can make your life simpler, but it can also lead you down the path to perdition," Janes adds. "You find things that point to things that point to things that point to things, and you wake up two hours later. Or maybe you're looking for something that simply can't be found on Google, and it takes you 45 minutes to figure that out." Janes was trained as a librarian, and he says one thing librarians learn is when to stop: "We know when to declare victoryor to go home if the information just isn't there."
Consider that: knowing when to stop. It's one of the many characteristics that define us as information and library professionals, and I think we should be proud of it.

BTW, the Time Out New York publishers and editors have quietly set a high standard for open access. They have uploaded the contents, except for listings of current events, of every issue since the magazine began publishing in 1995. New issues are archived online one month after publication. Issues can be browsed by date, and a search function is provided that allows keyword searching with the ability to restrict by section of the journal. As a good friend would say, totally brilliant.

May 14, 2004

Commentary: The Crisis In Scholary Communication, by George Porter

The crisis in scholarly communications is now well into its third decade by many accounts. I was discussing journal cancellations with a faculty member when we touched on Henry Barschal's seminal analysis of commercially and society published journal prices. Stanford and Yale have collaborated to document the entire case of Gordon & Breach v. American Institute of Physics and American Physical Society.

Library-publisher dynamics have not changed greatly in the intervening years, but the broader awareness and concern with the topic has undergone a sea change in the last few years.

The Public Library of Science (PLoS) petition did not result in a massive boycott of journals. PLoS did make a significant splash with coverage in the broader news media at the time. The emergence of PubMed Central, BioMed Central, and PLoS as publishers has not gone unnoticed, perhaps due to the sensitization of faculty and the media through the earlier effort.

Continue reading "Commentary: The Crisis In Scholary Communication, by George Porter" »

November 28, 2003

Vegetal and mineral memory: The future of books

:: While somewhat off the scitech-beaten path, here is an interesting essay on the future of books:

    "The city of Alexandria played host on 1 November to the renowned Italian novelist and scholar Umberto Eco, who gave a lecture in English, on varieties of literary and geographic memory, at the newly opened Bibliotheca Alexandrina. Al-Ahram Weekly publishes the complete text of the lecture."
BTW, Geoff is still alive, but has been busy for two weeks taking possession of and working on his house. He'll return next week.

July 15, 2003

Contributing to the Stereotype, or Otherwise?

:: Recently I learned of two developments of which I am less than thrilled (despite have one great sense of humour, really!)

1) A librarian doll has appeared, manufactured by a Seattle-based company called Accoutrements. The doll's right arm moves up to the librarian's mouth, executing a silent "shush". More details are available here.

2) Steven Cohen plans to update a 1970s article on librarians marrying librarians. Response has been very positive, and more details about the project have appeared.

To me, these developments are a step backwards, or sideways at best, as we continue to naval gaze within our profession. I hope the doll is a best-seller (or do I?), and I wish Steven much success with the article.

The doll looks like it stepped out of a 1940s time-warp. Could the dress be just a little longer, please? I can see ankle, just above the sensible shoes. I've read that a sense of humour is needed to go along with this new "action figure". Er, I have a great sense o' humour already, remember. In the meantime, let's continue fostering the librarian stereotype, 'kay? 'Kay.

In the 1970s, when the first article appeared on librarians marrying each other, my reaction then, as now, was something like, "wha----?" Why would we care? How can such a subject make the cover story for American Libraries? I'm no more interested in lawyers or pharmacists marrying each other than I am librarians. I have librarian friends in Edmonton and beyond who co-habitate, and I don't want to know anymore about them than I do other couples who live together. My response to Steven is here, if you'd like to read it. Meanwhile, please contact him if you want to contribute to the project.