Archive for: November, 2009

Music Mondays: Have a heavy metal Christmas

Nov 30 2009 Published by under music, music mondays

Welcome to the latest feature here at Confessions of a Science Librarian -- Music Mondays! My plan is to have a vaguely music-related post here most Mondays, somewhat in the vein of my Friday Fun posts, but probably not quite as regular. I'll probably mix in short CD reviews, odd bits I've found on the web, the occasional "Five Songs I Love" feature with who knows what else I think of.

And speaking of odd bits...

Rob Halford, Metal God, Judas Priest front man, solo act with a couple of really great albums under his belt, has a new Christmas CD coming out called Wintersongs

Let's hear what he has to say for himself:

Let's focus on the business at hand for a couple moments here and talk about this Christmas record and why. The big question - I'm sure a lot of fans are asking - why bring the Halford band together for a seasonal album?

Well, it was a pretty simple idea on the basics of the whole thing and it was very much from my own personal desires and wishes, and I wasn't sure how Metal Mike (Chlasciak - guitar) and Roy Z (guitar) and Bobby (Jarzombek - drums) and Mike (Davis - bass) would take it. But do you remember I did that song for radio many years ago called 'Christmas Ride'? And then, I forget what year that was, it was around the time that we were making Crucible (actually 1994). But prior to that in the FIGHT band, around the first Fight record, I made a handful of CDs of a song called 'Silent Night' just for family and friends. So both of those experiences had been kind of locked away in the metal memory banks but never really disappeared. So each time successive Christmases would come along I would say, 'oh, God, I've done this again.' I really wanted to try and get something out this year, you know, and again for the obvious reasons of being immersed with all the metal around me, I just didn't have the time or the window or the opportunity to make it all happen. But anyway, the decision was made a long time ago. What do you think about this? Do you think it's cool? Are you up for it? Do you believe in it? What do you think we're gonna do? And everybody ran to the idea and once it got the thumbs up, then the slow piecing process bit by bit started to come together over a couple of years. And you know, when you say a couple of years, that wasn't like two years of intensity, that was just really the guys finding time in their own schedules, their own busy schedules, to put all of these ideas together as a band.

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The future of bookstores is the...

...present of public and academic libraries?

What got me thinking along these lines most recently was the recent Clay Shirky blog post,
Local Bookstores, Social Hubs, and Mutualization. It's a pretty good post that puts a particular kind of physical retail into the context of current online retail and media shift realities.

In the first section of the post, Shirky basically outlines the trouble that physical bookstores are in, caught between the rock of the competition of online/big box store and the hard place of the coming media singularity.

Like record stores and video rental places, physical bookstores simply can't compete for breadth of offering and, also like the social changes around music and moving images, the internet is strengthening rather than weakening the ability of niches and sub-cultures to see themselves reflected in long-form writing.


This sort of commitment to bookstores is a normative argument, an argument about how things ought to be. It is also an argument that might succeed, as long as it re-imagines what bookstores are for and how they are supported, rather than merely hoping that if enough nice people seem really concerned, the flow of time will reverse.

In the next section, he talks about the social aspects of good bookstores that the stores are currently unable to monetize. This is really the core of the piece -- that physical space offers something that virtual space cannot and is therefore worth supporting and preserving.

The local bookstore creates all kinds of value for its community, whether its providing community bulletin boards, putting rocking chairs in the kids section, hosting book readings, or putting benches out in front of the store. Local writers, harried parents, couples on dates, all get value from a store's existence as a inviting physical location, value separate from its existence as a transactional warehouse for books.

The store doesn't get paid for this value. It gets paid for selling books. That ecosystem works -- when it works -- as long as the people sitting in those rocking chairs buy enough books, on average, to cover the added cost of having the chairs in the first place. The blows to that model have been coming for some time, from big box retailers stocking best sellers to online sales (especially second-hand sales) to the spread of ebooks to, now, price wars.


If the money from selling books falls below a certain threshold, the stores will cut back on something -- hours, staff, rocking chairs -- and their overall value will fall, meaning marginally fewer patrons and sales, threatening still more cutbacks. There may be a future in which they offer less value and make less money in some new and stable equilibrium, but beneath a certain threshold, the only remaining equilibrium is Everything Must Go. Given the margins, many local bookstores are near that threshold today.

All of this makes it clear what those bookstores will have to do if the profits or revenues of the core transaction fall too far: collect revenue for the side-effects.


The core idea is to appeal to that small subset of customers who think of bookstores as their "third place", alongside home and work. These people care about the store's existence in physical (and therefore social) space; the goal would be to generate enough revenue from them to make the difference between red and black ink, and to make the new bargain not just acceptable but desirable for all parties. A small collection of patron saints who helped keep a local bookstore open could be cheaply smothered in appreciation by the culture they help support.

Now comes the interesting part for our purposes -- what should the owners of physical bookstores do about the problem and what role does the larger community play in that transformation.

Treating the old side-effects as the new core value would in many cases require non-profit status. This would push small stores who tried it towards the NPR model, with a mix of endowment, sponsorship, and donations, a choice that might be anathema to the current owners. However, the history of businesses that traffic in physical delivery of media has been grim these last few years. (This is the story of your local record store, RIP.)


Even when the current recession ends, it's hard to imagine vibrant re-population of most of the empty commercial spaces, and it's easy to imagine scenarios in which commercial districts suffer more: consolidation among pharmacy chains, an uptick in electronic banking, the end of our love affair with frozen yogurt, any of these could keep many street level spaces empty, whatever happens to the larger economy.

If commercial space does follow the warehouse-and-loft pattern, then we'll need to find ways to re-purpose those spaces. Unlike lofts, however, street level living has never been a big draw, but turning those spaces into mixed commercial-and-communal use may offer a viable alternative.


All of which is to say that trying to save local bookstores from otherwise predictably fatal competition by turning some customers into members, patrons, or donors is an observably crazy idea. However, if the sober-minded alternative is waiting for the Justice Department to anoint the American Booksellers Association as a kind of OPEC for ink, even crazy ideas may be worth a try.

So, the idea is that bookstores are basically dead in the water, with competition and change on all sides. I largely agree with Shirky here, that most people will tend toward lower prices and greater convenience (ie. see Walmart & Amazon) and that this will influence a long term trend that will be difficult for physical retail outlets to combat. What he outlines is a classic case of the tragedy of the commons, where pursuing one aspect of self-interest actually harms a resource for the whole community, including of course, the set of people who began the cycle by acting in their own interest.

What I find curious is that much of what Shirky suggests as the future of bookstores is actually the past, the present and the future of libraries. Pretty well everything he suggests from cafes to hosting community events to providing relaxed social spaces are already what libraries do in their communities, whether those communities are towns and cities or academic institutions. Libraries already provide content (such as books, magazines/journals and music) to their communities at no direct cost to their patrons.

Most communities also have community centres which also provide a lot of the services that he's talking about.

Public and academic libraries are mutualized resources -- they literally belong to their communities already. If we as a society want to expand the realm of public spaces, to reclaim previously commercialized spaces and integrate them into the public sphere, there's already a template in place for those public spaces. Building and investing in our libraries and community centres seems like a great place to start.

I've always thought that Shirky was one of the smartest and most sensible commentators out there so I find it unfortunate that he has such a library blindspot. It's also unfortunate that he hasn't really engaged in conversation about the post, either at the blog (where the post doesn't allow comments although most others do) or on his Twitter account.

(A personal note here: I almost never shop online. I choose to live in a big city, so if I can buy something in person from a local business I do, even if it costs a bit more in time or money. I have an interest in the economic health of my local community, in the supply of a wide range of employment and the availability of a variety of goods and services.)

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Best Science Books 2009: The Globe 100

Nov 29 2009 Published by under best science books 2009, science books

One of the most interesting lists every year is The Globe and Mail's Globe 100, and this year is no exception. There's relevant stuff all over the spectrum, from biography to history to graphic novels to popular science to the environment.

In the print version, the categories are pretty basic: Canadian fiction, international fiction, poetry, non-fiction, graphica. Online, the categories are, well, a little more granular, and we'll get to that train wreck after the list.

Here goes:

  • Logicomix by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou, art by Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna
  • Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent by Andrew Nikiforuk
  • Norman Bethune by Adrienne Clarkson
  • Angels and Ages: A Short Book about Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life by Adam Gopnik
  • The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom by Graham Farmelo
  • Why Your World Is about to Get a Whole Lot Smaller: Oil and the End of Globalization by Jeff Rubin
  • Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson
  • The Price of a Bargain: The Quest for Cheap and the Death of Globalization by Gordon Laird
  • The End of a River: Dams, Drought and Déjà Vu on the Rio São Francisco by Brian Harvey
  • The Well-Dressed Ape: A Natural History of Myself by Hannah Holmes
  • Grass, Sky, Song: Promise and Peril in the World of Grassland Birds by Trevor Herriot
  • Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis by Alanna Mitchell
  • Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy
  • The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins
  • Hope for Animals and their World: How Endangered Species are being Rescued from the Brink by Jane Goodall
  • The Third Man Factor: The Secret to Survival in Extreme Environments by John Geiger

Like I mentioned, The Globe did divide the books up into a bunch more categories in the online version than in print. In particular, the non-fiction got separated out into Canadiana; social studies; history & war; biography, memoir & correspondence; economics & travel and ... science, religion & the environment.

Yes, science and the environment bundled together with religion, with the comment, "Richard Dawkins in one corner, Karen Armstrong the other..." Of course, Armstrong's The Case for God was the only religion book mentioned in the list. Without getting all angry atheist here or anything, I think it's silly to group the evidence-based subjects with mythology. Would they have included a book on Norse or Greek mythology (or pink unicorns) in with the science books? Of course not. And they shouldn't have included the Armstrong.

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The Information Revolution is not bloodless

From the most recent issue of Locus magazine, November 2009, talking about his most recent novel Makers:

The people in Makers experience a world in which technology giveth and taketh away. They live through the fallacy of the record and movie industries: the idea that technology will go just far enough to help them and then stop. That's totally not what happens. technology joes that far and them keeps on going. It's a cycle of booms and busts. There are some lovely things about when you're riding the wave and some scary things.

The Information Revolution is not bloodless. There's plenty to like about the pre-Information era and a lot of that will go away. We can mourn it in the same way we mourn the knife sharpener who walked down the road with his wheel, the same way we mourn the passing of the lace tatter and all the other jobs that were made obsolete by one kind of technology or another. But we can mourn it without apologizing for the future that disrupted it.

(Doctorow, C. (2009, November). Cory Doctorow: Riding the wave. Locus, 63(5), 7, 60-61.)

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Friday Fun: Jackass driven development

Nov 27 2009 Published by under friday fun

Actually, not jackass, but asshole, but this is a family blog, at least as far as post titles are concerned.

In any case, Scott Berkun's Asshole driven development post on practices in the software industry from a couple of years ago is so true that it almost passes from being funny to being sad. Yes, in my previous career, I was a software developer in the insurance industry and while I had a couple of great bosses (you know who you are!), there were a couple who were...

Well, read on:

Asshole Driven development (ADD) - Any team where the biggest jerk makes all the big decisions is asshole driven development. All wisdom, logic or process goes out the window when Mr. Asshole is in the room, doing whatever idiotic, selfish thing he thinks is best. There may rules and processes, but Mr. A breaks them and people follow anyway.

Some of the other management theories Berkun discusses are Cover Your Ass Engineering, Development By Denial and Get Me Promoted Methodology. And the 300+ comments are worth their weight in gold.

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Best Science Books 2009: Strategy+Business

Obviously, Strategy+Business is not going to be core science books, but I've always included social media, technology and innovation books in my very broad definition of science books. There are a couple of categories that have some very fine books on recommendation.


  • Stealing MySpace: The Battle to Control the Most Popular Website in America by Julia Angwin
  • Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy by Lawrence Lessig
  • Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It's Becoming, and Why It Matters by Scott Rosenberg


  • Twitterville: How Businesses Can Thrive in the New Global Neighborhoods by Shel Israel
  • Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson
  • The Brand Bubble: The Looming Crisis in Brand Value and How to Avoid It by John Gerzema and Ed Lebar


  • The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century by George Friedman

Note: Registration is required to read the articles. Head on over to to get some already set up account numbers & passwords.

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Best Science Books 2009: Library Journal

Nov 23 2009 Published by under best science books 2009, science books

Unfortunately, LJ's Best Books 2009: 31 Titles, Plus Best Genres & How-To doesn't have a dedicated science section but there are a few good recommendations nevertheless.

  • NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman
  • The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom by Graham Farmello
  • The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes
  • Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service--A Year Spent Riding Across America by James McCommons
  • Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City by Eric W. Sanderson
  • Got Sun? Go Solar: Harness Nature's Free Energy To Heat and Power Your Grid-Tied Home by Rex A. Ewing & Doug Pratt

BTW, as I've mentioned before, if you see a Year's Best books list out there somewhere that you think I should highlight, please let me know either in the comments here or by email (jdupuis at yorku dot ca).

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Friday Fun: Why we use cookbooks

Nov 20 2009 Published by under friday fun

I like to cook. I have a few standard, signature dishes where I more or less freestyle every time I make them -- beef stew, chili, quesadillas, pasta sauce.

I also like to try new things. For example, I'll probably be making Tyler Hamilton's lamb shank Irish stew this weekend. So yeah, the first time I make something I usually follow the recipe pretty closely; and I find a lot of my recipes on the web.

But, at the same time I also own a fair number of cookbooks which I do like to use for their recipes and, more importantly, for a bit of immersion into a style or a philosophy or a technique. And I find cookbooks are still really great for that.

Interestingly, Adam Gopnik is thinking some of the same things in his recent New Yorker article, What's the Recipe? Our hunger for cookbooks.

Another answer to the question "What good is the cookbook?" lies in what might be called the grammatical turn: the idea that what the cookbook should supply is the rules, the deep structure--a fixed, underlying grammar that enables you to use all the recipes you find. This grammatical turn is available in the popular "Best Recipe" series in Cook's Illustrated, and in the "Cook's Bible" of its editor, Christopher Kimball, in which recipes begin with a long disquisition on various approaches, ending with the best (and so brining was born); in Michael Ruhlman's "The Elements of Cooking," with its allusion to Strunk & White's usage guide; and, most of all, in Mark Bittman's indispensable new classic "How to Cook Everything," which, though claiming "minimalism" of style, is maximalist in purpose--not a collection of recipes for all occasions but a set of techniques for all time.

If you love cookbooks, it's a great read.

FWIW, the most recent cookbook I've purchased is Michael Smith's The Best of Chef at Home: Essential Recipes for Today's Kitchen. I really like the way he sees his recipes as starting points for improvisation.

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Librarians and social media engagement

Or, Twitter & blogs as ways of knowing, Part 2.

A month or so ago, I poked a little gentle fun at social media extremists, basically exploring the idea that engaging online is the be-all and end-all of the library profession versus the idea that much of what we do online is peripheral to the main thrust of what librarianship is all about. To a certain degree, I guess I was setting up a couple of straw people just for the purpose of knocking them down but at the time it seemed like contrasting those extremes was a useful way of looking at the issue.

Of course, I don't believe either extreme is the correct path, but rather somewhere in the middle. Curiously, I didn't actually state what I thought the correct path for online social media engagement might be.

My core assumption is that for academic librarians, professional development is a key part of our jobs. We must keep up with what is happening in the broader library world, the worlds of our patrons and the the world as a whole. Keeping up includes current events, disciplinary trends, applications of new technologies and social trends, particularly as they effect higher education and the lives of the mostly young people who are in our student cohort.

So without further ado, John Dupuis' Laws of Librarian Social Media Engagement.

  • Engaging professional communities through online social media is a good thing
  • Not everybody has to be present on every platform
  • Pick one or two that make sense for you
  • Stick with the one(s) that make sense and contribute to the community
  • Engage beyond the library community

In other words, if it was up to me, I think it's a good idea for people to be engaged online in at least one place: through blogging or on Twitter, Friendfeed, Facebook, Nature Network, LinkedIn, 2collab, Mendeley or whatever. Pick one and get involved; amongst all of us we can cover them all increasing our presence online as a profession, sharing our perspective and bringing outside perspectives back to librarianship.

And I think that's an important point. Part of engaging is getting beyond the library world into the worlds of those we hope to serve with our collections and services. It can mean crossing over into science communities or technology or marketing or history or fine arts or higher education administration or whatever.

Some good examples of that would be the presence of a couple of librarians here on ScienceBlogs, over at Nature Network (Frank Norman is an excellent example of a librarian who engages scientists at Nature Network) or the rather harmonious co-existence of librarians and science people on Friendfeed. And I'm sure there are others that i don't know about.

Personally, I'm an active blogger (obviously) but I'm also active on Friendfeed and Twitter. I used to be more active on Nature Network and LinkedIn, but there are only so many hours in the day.

Now, do I really think every librarian will join a social network for professional development purposes? Of course not. You're never going to get everyone to do any one thing. And for what it's worth, Twitter, et al. just aren't for everyone.

What I do think is that everyone owes it to themselves and to their profession to at least give it a try. And yes, this statement would apply beyond librarianship to any profession.

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Top 5 Must-Read Social Media Books

Sort of related to my ongoing series of Best Science Books 2009 lists, here's a nice list of the top 5 social media books I found on Mashable, via Tara Hunt. They're all 2009 books, after all.

The list is from Steve Cunningham who interestingly frames the five books in terms of the lessons we should take away from them.

Four of the books look pretty good, the kinds of books that have lot to say about how libraries could engage patrons in social media spaces. I have both the Mitch Joel and Tara Hunt books kicking around the house and look forward to reading them and will probably get both the Brogan and Weinberg eventually. And reviewing them all here, of course.

As for Crush It!, well, I tend to favour a bit more of a work/life balance than that book seems to advocate.

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