Archive for: September, 2009

Friday Fun: Werewolves & Wikipedia

No, I don't mean the werewolf entry in Wikipedia, I mean the use of Wikipedia by werewolves.

You see, I recently received a review copy of The Werewolf's Guide to Life: A Manual for the Newly Bitten by Ritch Duncan, Bob Powers and Emily Flake.

As you can imagine, it an imaginary non-fiction book helping new werewolves to cope with their newly transformed lives -- it talks about work, romance and all the rest. I'm not quite finished it yet, but it's very amusing and definitely worth a look if you like that kind of thing.

What struck me, though, is something from the entry on figuring out when the full moon is every month; for werewolves who want to keep their status secret and not alarm their community, you have to know this so you'll know when to lock yourself up.

The authors recommend several standard reference books such as The New York Times Almanac and the Eldridge Tide & Pilot Book. Fine.

But check this out:

The Internet: The information superhighway is almost certainly going to have what you need. Sadly, it also offers a great deal of inaccurate, copied, or unchecked information. Make sure you double- and triple-check your information. Wikipedia won't cut it this time.

Cool. I may even use this quote in my IL presentations.

After all, would you trust Wikipedia with your life?

What website would you recommend to werewolves who need accurate info on lunar phases? The US Naval Observatory?

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Engineering and Society: Working Towards Social Justice

I've always thought the born-digital, high-quality review articles (called "lectures") that Morgan & Claypool publish as part of their Synthesis product are one of the best products out there. They really get publishing scholarly and professional materials in the digital age.

One of their most interesting lecture series is the Synthesis Lectures on Engineers, Technology and Society.

Three new lectures in that series look to be perfect texts for a broad range of Engineering & Society-type course. In fact, I think a pretty good course along those lines could use nothing but the Synthesis articles.

A few examples of previously published lectures in that series:

These are subscription products, so if you're institution doesn't have them you should contact your local engineering librarian.

It's worth noting that I think Synthesis is a great example of the kinds of things academic libraries should be supporting and promoting. It's hard to imagine a free business model that would work for this kind of fairly unique, high-quality content. It's up to us to decide to spend our money on things that are truly worth it.

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IEEE-USA History Project

Just yesterday I posted on preserving the the history of the computing field, musing at the end that digitization projects could save a lot of documents.

Well, what comes along today in the latest What's New @ IEEE for Students is a note about the IEEE-USA History Project:

Digital Archives, Organization's Four Decades of Service Unveiled
IEEE-USA is building a digital archive featuring documents and photos of its 36-year history of promoting the careers and public policy interests of U.S. IEEE members. Part of the IEEE-USA History Project, the archive features:

  • An overview of the first four decades of IEEE-USA from 1973-2009
  • A listing of IEEE-USA's leaders from 1973 to date, including photos of boards of directors from 1998
  • A detailed description of IEEE-USA's formation and its first 10 years (1973-1983), including an IEEE Spectrum special report on the constitutional referendum that added professional activities to the IEEE constitution
  • A look at IEEE-USA growth and maturity from 1984-1999, with annual reports covering the 15-year period
  • A glimpse of IEEE-USA in the 21st Century from 2000-present, including annual reports from 2002-2008, years in review from 2005-2008 and program handbooks for 2007-2008
  • Program histories, including IEEE-USA's Student Professional Awareness Conferences (S-PACs)

John Meredith, IEEE-USA's 2007 president, is leading the IEEE-USA History Project. Meredith chaired the 2009 IEEE Conference on the History of Technical Societies, in Philadelphia from 5-7 August, and made a presentation on IEEE-USA history.

Bravo, IEEE!

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Preserving Records of the Past, Today

An interesting article from the most recent IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, Preserving Records of the Past, Today by James W. Cortada. In concerns the difficulty that scholars of the history of computing have in finding primary materials to work with, mostly in the form of documents.

Scholars examining the history of information technology run into many practical, nuts-and-bolts problems more frequently than historians in other fields that
have existed for considerable periods of time, such as diplomatic and political national history. Problems with the history of information technology center on the paucity of the tools historians rely on to do their work. This paucity includes insufficient finding aids
to archival collections and too few reference guides, bibliographies, and library collections adequately stocked with books and other publications. Of course,
the 800-pound guerrillas we all want in our intellectual spaces are large collections of archival materials needed to underpin our work. When compared to so many
other fields of history, we are long on demand and short on supply, mainly because our field is new. In time, all will be well in our part of history.

The author is kind enough to make a few suggestions to his fellow scholars about how they could improve conditions for themselves and coming generations of scholars.

Of course, the suggestions have a lot of applicability for librarians too, especially those (like me) who support historians of technology.

Let's take a look his suggestions. If you have access, it's well worth reading the whole article:

  • First, donate archival materials in whatever shape, form, or copy you acquire them to institutions of your choice so that future historians may consult them.
  • Second, collect and preserve all ephemera on your subject that you come across with the intention of donating it to a library or archive.
  • Third, write and publish bibliographic and historiographical articles describing materials and your research strategies.
  • Fourth, prepare annotated bibliographies and other research aids.

The first two, of course, seem the most directly applicable to libraries. There's a lot of pressure on space these days at libraries. On the one hand, we see ourselves as builders and promoters of excellent student spaces for study, relaxing and collaboration. On the other hand, economic pressures are forcing the closure of many dedicated subject libraries. Also, with technology books, magazines and other materials, the easy answer is that since the materials become technically obsolete fairly quickly, older versions can just be discarded. As well, with so much current material being online (both on the free web and in subscription ebook & periodical databases), there's also the impulse to just get rid of the stuff.

But, just as librarians in other disciplines are concerned with the histories of their fields, we must be careful about jettisoning the history of the disciplines that we support, we must be aware that our collections often serve more than what we think of as our core audience, but also historians, sociologists and anthropologists.

I would hope that Google and other book digitization programs will get around to a lot of that old material, but a lot of those old books, magazines and other ephemera will likely never be digitized by the commercial projects. I think there's lots of latitude here for special collections work, especially those that have off-site storage facililties or that can fund their own digitization projects for this type of material.

We live in interesting times, surrounded by rocks and hard places.

4 responses so far

Friday Fun: Exam howlers

Sep 04 2009 Published by under friday fun

I just love those articles that turn up every once in a while that make fun of the typos and factual errors students make on their exams and term papers. I know it's cruel but I can't help myself. Best Wank and Gaza: this year's top exam howlers is a pretty good example of the form.

Meanwhile, a biology student spent an entire paper telling Kevin Reiling, from the Faculty of Sciences at Staffordshire University, about the science of gnomes.

"It took me a while to realise she was referring to genomes," Dr Reiling remarked.

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Keywords of an Embedded Librarian

Keywords of a Librarian is the title of a new blog by academic librarian Mary W. George. What's very interesting about the blog is where it's being hosted.

It's part of InsideHigherEd's BlogU community so Mary George is a fellow academic library blogger embedded within a faculty blogging community. This is a great development as I think it's incredibly important to raise librarians' profile within the broader faculty/academic community; so having regular blog posts bring our perspectives and concerns to that audience is great. A hearty congratulations to Mary on her new post!

She's taking on an interesting mission with regards to helping faculty fine-tune assignments with literature search components:

I welcome library research assignments in any field and at any level. I will analyze some of these (either anonymously or not, as each submitter prefers) in this blog, suggesting ways to foster student understanding of the source-seeking process. Please send the context and wording of the assignment to, with your own comments on what aspect of the project you would like to strengthen.

I'm curious to see how that turns out.

The first post was August 18, followed by another on August 24. Late summer and early fall being a crazy time for us academic librarians, I hope she can find a regular posting rhythm over the coming weeks and months.

Let's take a look at those first two posts:

An Introduction

The best line from this post is by far: "Teaching faculty have immense persuasive power; we librarians do not."

Which summarizes quite nicely the position we librarians have within the academy.

What we do have are sweeping views of what scholars are up to, a grasp of how researchers do their business and what evidence ensues, and a knack for identifying and locating that evidence. By and large faculty and academic librarians respect one another's expertise and collaborate happily. But where and how do our apprentices--either undergraduates or graduate students -- learn the process and logic of source seeking? That is the question that haunts me and inspires this blog.

A fine and important thing to be haunted by, something shared by most of us concerned about the present and future of academic libraries.

Late Summer Rantings

Is the second post, concerned who our students are and how they find information:

The fashionable thing in academic libraries today is to overlay the catalog with a Web 2.0 interface. Implemented well, such software can reduce the number of frustrating searches, those that retrieve nothing relevant, and allow researchers to succeed with their own terminology, but it will not help students judge the items they find. But then neither did the card catalog when that was the sole means of discovery. It's just that now alphabetical order and a grasp of standardized/stilted subject headings are less important, while spelling, synonyms, and typing skills are more so. So this year's Beloit list reminds me that when it comes to exploring the library's collection, the challenges remain the same, both for me as a teacher and for freshmen as learners.

This looks to be a great addition to the world of academic library blogging. I wish Mary W. George all the best with her new blog and look forward to seeing what she has to say.

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ScienceBlogs community/reader registration: poll

Sep 03 2009 Published by under admin, blogging

It looks like ScienceBlogs will be getting a lot more community-like and a lot less we-talk-you-listen -- and that's a very good thing.

Since we're listening, we'd also like your feedback on how we should set up our community.

As you may have heard from one of our bloggers, ScienceBlogs will soon be introducing an optional user registration program. We hope that this will help you, as readers, connect with one another, keep track of the posts and discussions you are interested in, and control how you interact with the site.

To that end, we'd love to hear what you think would most improve your site experience--what would be useful, interesting, or just plain fun? You can help us decide which features to introduce in both stages of our two-part development by responding to the poll below. Bump items up or down to rank them in order of most- to least-wanted.

Look for registration coming soon!

Also, feel free to leave a comment here if you have any suggestions.

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Recently in the IEEE

A bunch of recent journal & magazine issues to catch up on. There's lots of cool stuff to highlight, so I'll only list a couple of articles from each issue. Unfortunately, most of it will be behind the IEEE paywall.

IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, v31i2

IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, v28i2

IEEE Women in Engineering Magazine, v3i1

IEEE Security & Privacy, v7i4

IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, IEEE, v31i3 (Special issue on the history of Computer Games!)

IEEE Software, v26i5

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