Archive for: May, 2009

More on social networking

May 29 2009 Published by under acad lib future, social media, web 2.0

I'd like to pick up a little where I left off in my last posting on social networking. In that post, I was highlighting a post by Wayne Bivens-Tatum on how he prefers to interact in online environments. Or more precisely, how he prefers not to get too deeply involved.

Wayne's points are well thought-out and reasonable. And a kind of challenge to those that want to build online communities -- the people they probably need to listen to the most when they are designing their communities are people like him rather than just people in the social media echo chamber.

Now, of course Wayne got a lot of "try it, you'll like it" responses to his post, both in the comments on my blog and in comments at his as well.

Not surprisingly, he's crafted a well thought-out reply:

The "don't knock it 'til you try it response" is problematic for many reasons (not that I was knocking anything). To echo one person who commented on my blog, I haven't tried cannibalism or genital piercing either, but I don't want to. The response also smacks of an irritating paternalism, as if a grown man who's reasonably bright and educated is like a child who needs to be told to eat his vegetables. "How do you know you don't like cauliflower until you've tried it?" Not being a child, but instead a rather large man, there's a temptation to suggest the inquisitor take the cauliflower and insert it somewhere very uncomfortable, like the back seat of a Volkswagen. Mostly, though, the response is flawed because it assumes that any given social software application is somehow sui generis, when in fact they are all just variations on a theme. Twitter, for example, is analogous to all sorts of other things, and even if it weren't it's not like it's some difficult concept to understand.

There is in fact an analogous service I have tried: Facebook. I've been on for two or three years and find myself going to it less and less frequently. It's been okay, but nothing especially life-changing. I've been in contact with people I haven't seen since high school, which has been pleasant. I've played a few games of Scrabble. I know some people use Twitter and their Facebook status update the same way, and one thing I've never done is update my status. I've never told people what I was having for lunch, or posted a Youtube video of some funny antic, or tried to come up with a clever epigram or aphorism to show people how interesting I am.

Why? Mainly because I don't think anyone would care, just as I'm interested in very few of other people's postings. On a moment to moment basis, I, like most people, am just not very interesting. I'm not necessarily boring, and I do think I have my good qualities, but I really can't figure out what I could say in a few characters that would be worth reading. Writing nothing worth reading may not bother most people, but I try to keep an audience in mind and not bore you too much.

The core of what Wayne is saying is this: "I just know what I want to read and how I want to spend my time and interact with others."

If you build it, what if they just don't come. What if they have no interest in what you have to offer? Most attempts to build the next "Facebook for Scientists" or new plans to "engage the undergrad population via blogs and Twitter and Second Life" run up against exactly what Wayne is talking about.

The challenge isn't that the people in the target groups are Luddites with no interest in technology or with connecting online. it's that they either already have social networking infrastructure (online or offline) that works for them or they're just not as interested in networking as you would hope or like to believe.

It seems to me that one possibility if we want to engage these groups, is that we have to figure out where they already are and how we can fit into and improve that rather than try and build something completely new that we'll then try and entice everyone to join.

2 responses so far

Friday Fun: Books vs. Kindle vs. Zombies

May 29 2009 Published by under friday fun

Bookgasm is a great site that reviews a lot of fun reading in all kinds of genres. As the name indicates, they don't necessarily take themselves too seriously either.

About a month ago they had a post on Paper or Plastic?: The Books vs. Kindle Showdown that is absolutely hilarious. It's a 10 item smackdown on the usefulness of owning 200 paper books versus the Kindle in various life-changing moments. Often somehow involving zombies.

In any case, here's a taste:

Government experimentation has caused the dead to rise up from their cold and lonely graves and stalk the living in search of sweet, nourishing brains. Thanks to some lucky breaks, you find yourself safe inside a secure location with plenty of food and water. Unfortunately, due to the rushed nature of the emergency, a necessary ration of toilet paper was not included amongst your supplies.

Books: Used wisely, the pages from 200 books could easily last you until a solution is found to finally bring an end to the terrible zombie holocaust.

Kindle: Lacking any absorbency, the hard, plastic Kindle is not only going to become unbearably disgusting after just one use, but even with the greatest of care will likely prove highly irritating to that extremely sensitive part of the human anatomy.

Winner: Books

I won't tell you who wins out overall, but it's a close one!

2 responses so far

Best Science Books 2008: Royal Society Prize for Science Books

May 27 2009 Published by under best science books 2008, science books

Every year starting in November or so, I start to highlight various "year's best science books" lists I find around the web.

Typically, one of the last is the long list for the Royal Society Prize for Science Books. Since it's a juried award, they need time to actually read the darn things. Yes, I know what that's like.

In any case, here's their list:

  • What the nose knows: The science of scent in everyday life by Avery Gilbert
  • Bad science by Ben Goldacre
  • The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic generation discovered the beauty and terror of science by Richard Holmes
  • Living with Enza: The forgotten story of Britain and the great flu pandemic of 1918 by Mark Honigsbaum
  • Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the great debate about the nature of reality by Manjit Kumar
  • Strange fruit: Why both sides are wrong in the race debate by Kenan Malik
  • Decoding the heavens: Solving the mystery of the world's first computer by Jo Marchant
  • The drunkard's walk: How randomness rules our lives by Leonard Mlodinow
  • Physics for future presidents: The science behind the headlines by Richard A Muller
  • Your inner fish: The amazing discovery of our 375-million-year-old ancestor by Neil Shubin
  • Ice, mud and blood: Lessons from climates past by Chris Turney
  • Microcosm: E. coli and the new science of life by Carl Zimmer
  • The universe in a mirror: The saga of the Hubble Space Telescope and the visionaries who built it by Robert Zimmerman

This is definitely a list I'll use for some collection development.

One response so far

My Job in 10 Years -- The Book

May 26 2009 Published by under acad lib future, librarianship

Yes, the book. My Job in 10 Years: The Future of Academic Libraries.

To rewind a bit, the story begins this past January. I did a little off-the-cuff post on how libraries could model their web presences on commercial book-related sites like or the Globe & Mail Books site. It ended up being surprisingly popular, even getting picked up by AL Direct.

Shortly after that, I was contacted by Christopher Rhodes of ALA Editions to see if I was interested in proposing a book for them about designing library web pages that way. (Thanks, Chris!)

Well, like any good blogger, I've always vaguely fantasized about a publisher approaching me to turn my blog into a book but had never really thought the probability was that high. I've never been proactive about it either and have never given any thought to approaching any publishers myself. At the same time, I'd always thought that if there were any interest out there it would be in the My Job in 10 Years series of posts I did from 2005 to 2007. It's substantial, it's interesting and I think it's the best stuff I've done here on the blog. Not to downplay the value of the & Mail post -- designing the library web presence is something I'm keenly interested in and have been involved with much of my career. I just haven't written about it that much.

In any case, Chris and I discussed these issues over email and phone and ultimately agreed that a potential My Job in 10 Years book was both interesting, viable and practically speaking, the one I would be best able to tackle first. The web site project may very well happen at some point, but first things first.

So, here we are. I'm scheduled to hand in the manuscript in March 2010. That's about 10 months, which should be interesting.

So, some questions that you all no doubt have:

  • What's it going to be about? My current plan is to approach the project more or less like I approached the blog post series. I'm basically going to re-imagine my own job, which directly involves reference, collections, instruction, liaison/outreach and research support. I'll be adding some material on the future of higher education & scholarly communication, library management and governance as well. Just like the blog series, I'll also be talking about the things I advocate for such as the libraries web presence and building physical spaces.

    A big part of the project will be discussing how to prepare for change, what librarians should think about and how they should organize their own professional development in the face of onrushing change. The book won't be about every kind of librarian job in every possible academic library setting, both because that would venture too far from what I know anything about and would also make the project too large and unwieldy. In many ways, this is going to be a very personal book.

  • Why me? The glib answer is, "Why not me?" There are as many possible books about the future of academic libraries are there are librarians that could write them. Mine will be but one possible imaginative response to the challenges of the future. I'm just the lucky one who's tried it before and will get to try it again. I do think there's a connection between trying something once, having it turn out pretty well, and getting to try it again. Will it be the best, the most visionary, the most daring, the most comprehensive, the most accurate, the most pessimistic, the most optimistic? That won't be for me to say.

    What I can say is that I do welcome the opportunity to read more librarians' (and others') takes on the future of academic libraries. I'm humble enough to see my side of this as the great learning opportunity that it truly is.

  • Blogging the Book? There's currently no plan to make the text of the book freely available online. That being said, I certainly plan to work my way through most of the issues I'll be dealing with right here. I will definitely be thinking through and testing out a lot of my ideas here on the blog. I also expect that I'll be posting chapter outlines and maybe even early drafts. Right now all my thinking is structural, so I'll probably be posting a provisional table of contents pretty soon.

  • Isn't this a crazy time to be speculating about the future? Ya think? Seriously, we are at a very interesting time in the history of information, libraries, media, scholarship, higher education and the places all those things intersect. Some days it does truly feel like a media singularity is rushing towards us. Other days, the pace of change seems too slow, glacial almost. No one really knows what's going to happen in two years, much less ten.

  • How can you help? If there's anything that contemplating this project has brought home to me, it's this: I have a lot to learn. I have a lot to learn about what libraries and librarians are already doing and will be able to do in the future. To the extent that the project will be developed on this blog, I'm hoping that all my readers out there (librarians and non-librarians alike) can educate me about the possibilities of our profession, the future of higher education, the changing information landscape and the social and environmental challenges the future will bring. I'm a big believer in crowdsourcing and collective intelligence. To a certain extent, I'm just a ringmaster here. To quote Isaac Newton, "If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants." Be a giant!

  • Does this explain all those reading lists? Yes.

By far my favourite quote from the blog series is this, the final paragraph:

As for the predictions themselves, I must admit to feeling a lot of ambivalence about them at this point. And that's because I find myself not necessarily committed to realizing the future I've imagined, only to bringing about a future. If I've imagined wrong, if there are things I didn't anticipate, well that's fine. I'll adjust my vision to changing circumstances and to changing knowledge and try and balance the needs to change with the needs to maintain our core values. A tough balancing act to be sure, but one that I think I'm up to. I want to facilitate a future, one that is good for our patrons but one that also has me in it. And I think that's what we should all aspire to in our professional lives, to bringing about the best future we can imagine, for ourselves and our patrons.

(BTW, a few things that I always thought were low probability seem to be happening lately. I think it's time to start investing in lottery tickets pretty heavily. Never two without three, as they say!)

8 responses so far

Still more reports and books on the future of academic libraries

May 25 2009 Published by under acad lib future, librarianship

For those of you new to Confessions of a Science Librarian, I've been publishing various lists of books and reports/white papers for the last little while. The reports and books explore various ideas, issues and trends that I think will be important in the development of academic libraries over the next several years and range pretty far and wide in terms of subject matter.

I've done four lists so far, mentioning a rather frightening number of different items:



  • The Innovator's Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth by Clayton M. Christensen, Michael E. Raynor
  • The Wealth of Knowledge: Intellectual Capital and the Twenty-first Century Organization by Thomas A. Stewart
  • Educating the Net Generation: How to Engage Students in the 21st Century by Bob Pletka, Ed.D.
  • The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  • Digital Barbarism: A Writer's Manifesto by Mark Helprin

As usual, if you know of any books or reports that might be interesting, please let me know. I'll be aggregating all the various lists and creating one big page fairly soon.

5 responses so far

Friday Fun: Five more songs I love

May 22 2009 Published by under friday fun

My last Friday Fun post at the old home was a list of five hard rock songs that I really love. I enjoyed doing that list so much, I thought I'd do it again this time, but with a focus on the blues.

  • I'm a Criminal by Paul Reddick + The Sidemen. This song totally blew me away the first time I heard it and it will totally blow you away too.

  • How Blue Can You Get by BB King. BB King was the very first blues artist I got into. My father was a huge Johnny Carson fan when I was growing up and I often used to stay up with him and watch The Tonight Show. And Carson loved blues and jazz music and very often had musical guests from those genres. Well, BB King was the one that really made an impression on me and he's always been one of my absolute favourite artists. I've seen him in concert probably 5 or 8 times.

  • The Forty Four by Eric Clapton. 44 Blues is a great song, one of my favourite blues songs of all time. I did actually hear it first at an Eric Clapton concert, so this is a representative taste of how I discovered the song.

  • Damn Right I've Got The Blues by Buddy Guy. No special stories for Buddy Guy, but I love this song.

  • Caline de blues by Offenbach. Offenbach were one of the definitive French Canadian blues rock bands and this song is probably their best. BTW, this is a much better version of the song, probably the definitive version. It was recorded with Vic Vogel and his Big Band for the En Fusion live album Vogel and Offenbach did together. Unfortunately, there's no real video footage of that version.

Next time, Canadian music!

4 responses so far

Another librarian in the house!

May 22 2009 Published by under admin

Go on over and visit ScienceBlogs' newest librarian blogger: Christina Pikas at Christina's LIS Rant.

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Librarians: Why do you read ScienceBlogs?

May 21 2009 Published by under librarianship, personal, social media

Apparently, there are thousands of librarians that read ScienceBlogs. No surprisingly, the ScienceBlogs brain trust wants to know why.

In particular, they are looking to gather some information about what librarians hope to get out of reading the site. The question is: how does the content on ScienceBlogs help you in your role as a librarian?

You can send your thoughts to editorial at scienceblogs dot com or just leave it as a comment here.

I'll start.

I'm a science librarian so I have a couple of information needs in my work. First of all, I need to understand science and where it's going. New developments, new discoveries, important trends.

Second of all, I need to understand scientists and their culture. How do scientists do their work, how do they find the information they need to do that work, what issues obsess them and what needs drive them. I need to know what's happening with trends in scholarly publishing and how that's affecting scientists. In particular, I need to understand how open access and open science plays into all this and what arguments both proponents and opponents are using. This kind of information will help me understand my users better and help them with their information needs as well as to be a more effective advocate for openness on my campus.

ScienceBlogs helps me with those information needs.

(Christina has also asked the question.)

5 responses so far

Issues in Science & Technology Librarianship, Spring 2009

May 21 2009 Published by under engineering, escience, literature roundup

Lots of great articles in this issue! Pretty well every one is worth checking out:

If there's one item from the list that I think deserves special attention it's the Short Course on Patent Reference for Science and Technology Librarians by Linda Shackle. I know enough about patents and patent searching to recognize that this is an excellent introduction to the topic. There's enough that I still have to learn to be grateful for this wonderful resource.

This article is an introduction to patent reference for librarians who work in U.S. libraries and will give a foundation on which to build knowledge and skills in this area. Librarians who only occasionally receive patent questions may use this as a "how-to guide" with a list of resources. Although international patents are discussed, the guide is primarily U.S.-based, and covers what a patent is, provides basic searching techniques in the major free patent databases on the web, and links to patent information sources.

One response so far

Online social networking isn't for everyone

May 19 2009 Published by under acad lib future, social media, web 2.0

As we race headlong into a future full of opportunities for online social networking, as we try and build systems to engage students, scientists, librarians or others, we have to remember one thing.

When we build these systems, we need to build them for everyone. Not just the coolest and most technophilic. We have to build for who our audience really is, not who we wish they would be.

And sometimes we just have to recognize that not everyone will be interested in what we have to offer, even if they seem to fit our profile in other ways.

Wayne Bivens-Tatum does a very good job of reminding us of all that in his blog post about his own preferences in terms of online engagent.

Recently a couple of people have asked why I haven't joined some of the social networking services they find interesting or useful, particularly Twitter and Friendfeed, but the question could probably apply to more of them. The simple reason is, I don't see any way I would benefit from these services. Some people would consider that statement an incentive to either persuade me that I would benefit or dismiss me as a Luddite who just doesn't "get it." But I do get it. I know some of the ways people benefit from these services. It's just that I don't want those benefits. Partly, it's a personality issue. I'm not very social, and I don't have interests in common with many people. For example, I have almost no interest in: television, pop music, celebrities, fashion, food, cooking, new movies, sports, contemporary fiction, cars, gardening, crafts, diets, scandals, or the weather.

Wayne very helpfully identifies the online social networking "features" that he's not that interested in: Neophilia (love of the new), Diversion, Networking, Sharing and Discussion.

It's a great post, very thought provoking and stimulating. It's well worth reading the whole thing. I suspect a great many people sympathise with what he's saying but that they're not the people that are part of the blogging/twitter/friendfeed echo chamber.

Now, the message I take away from it is this: building community is very hard. Everybody wants to build a new Facebook for scientists or librarians, or a way of engaging a campus full of university students but the important thing to remember is what do your potential audience really want. Which of those five features are you trying to provide? What are the ways your audience are already fulfilling those needs? What are the potential gaps that you can fill? Is what you're offering very clearly better, easier to use, less disruptive to exisiting workflows? And most importantly, when you consider preaching to the unconverted, will enough people care?

23 responses so far

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