Archive for: March, 2010

Issues in Science & Technology Librarianship, Fall 2009 & Winter 2010

ISTL is a great resource for those of us in science and technology libraries. I'm happy to report on the tables of contents from the last two issues.

Winter 2010

Fall 2009

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Friday Fun: Google Responds To Privacy Concerns With Unsettlingly Specific Apology

Mar 12 2010 Published by under friday fun, social media

Oh, I love The Onion. Oh so funny and yet oh so directly on target.

So funny it hurts. In reference to the Great Buzz Privacy Boondoggle, this is what they have to say: Google Responds To Privacy Concerns With Unsettlingly Specific Apology.

The whole piece is brilliant -- go and read it right away, and I mean you George Smith of 5432 Murray Crescent, Podunk, ON.

"Americans have every right to be angry at us," Google spokesperson Janet Kemper told reporters. "Though perhaps Dale Gilbert should just take a few deep breaths and go sit in his car and relax, like they tell him to do at the anger management classes he attends over at St. Francis Church every Tuesday night."

"Breathe in, breathe out," Kemper added. "We wouldn't want you to have another incident, Dale. Not when you've been doing so well."

In an effort to make up for years of alarmingly invasive service, Google will automatically add $50 to all American bank accounts as a gesture of goodwill. The company has also encouraged feedback, explaining that users can type any concerns they may still have into any open browser window or, if they are members of Google Voice, "simply speak directly into [their] phones right now."

Either way, the company said, "We'll know."

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Best Science Books 2009: Library Journal Best of 2009 Sci-Tech Books

Mar 11 2010 Published by under best science books 2009, science books

A big list of 35 titles in various categories: Astronomy, Biography, Biology, Climatology, Environmental Science, Evolution, Geology, Health Sciences, History of Science, Mathematics, Natural History, Neurology, Oceanography, Paleontology, Physics, Psychology, Science, Technology, Zoology.

This particular list that Library Journal does every year is one that I always use for collection development. I'll order pretty well all the books that we don't already have. It's also heartening that a good chunk of the books that we do have were checked out when I checked the other day.

BTW, I may get around to updating my Top Books of the Year list...or I might not.

  • Einstein's Telescope: The Hunt for Dark Matter and Dark Energy in the Universe by Gates, Evalyn
  • The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom by Farmelo, Graham
  • Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science by Yoon, Carol Kaesuk
  • Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance To Save Humanity by Hansen, James
  • A World Without Ice by Pollack, Henry N.
  • Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto by Brand, Stewart
  • What We Leave Behind by Jensen, Derrick & Aric McBay.
  • The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning by Lovelock, James
  • Evolution: The Story of Life by Palmer, Douglas & Peter Barrett (illus.)
  • Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human by Wrangham, Richard
  • Uranium: War, Energy, and the Rock That Shaped the World by Zoellner, Tom
  • Taming the Beloved Beast: How Medical Technology Costs Are Destroying Our Health Care System by Callahan, Daniel
  • Experimental Man: What One Man's Body Reveals About His Future, Your Health, and Our Toxic World by Duncan, David Ewing
  • The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care by Reid, T.R.
  • Science: A Four Thousand Year History by Fara, Patricia
  • The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Holmes, Richard
  • Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World's Greatest Scientist by Levenson, Thomas
  • The Math Book: From Pythagoras to the 57th Dimension, 250 Milestones in the History of Mathematics by Pickover, Clifford
  • One Square Inch of Silence: One Man's Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World by Hempton, Gordon & John Grossmann
  • Paradise Found: Nature in America at the Time of Discovery by Nicholls, Steve.
  • Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City by Sanderson, Eric W. & Markley Boyer (illus.)
  • Cold: Adventures in the World's Frozen Places by Streever, Bill
  • Fixing My Gaze: A Scientist's Journey into Seeing in Three Dimensions by Barry, Susan R.
  • Think Smart: A Neuroscientist's Prescription for Improving Your Brain's Performance by Restak, Richard, M.D.
  • World Ocean Census: A Global Survey of Marine Life by Crist, Darlene Trew & others.
  • How To Build a Dinosaur: Extinction Doesn't Have to Be Forever by Horner, Jack & James Gorman.
  • Collider: The Search for the World's Smallest Particles by Halpern, Paul.
  • On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction by Boyd, Brian
  • Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Behavior by Dahaene, Stanislas
  • Nature's Patterns: A Tapestry in Three Parts. Includes: Shapes, Flow and Branches by Ball, Philip.
  • Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future by Mooney, Chris & Sheril Kirshenbaum
  • The Department of Mad Scientists: How DARPA Is Remaking Our World, from the Internet to Artificial Limbs by Belfiore, Michael
  • The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society by DeWaal, Franz
  • On Thin Ice: The Changing World of the Polar Bear by Ellis, Richard
  • Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution by Fraser, Caroline

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Computer Engineer Barbie!

Mar 09 2010 Published by under women in science

Yesterday was International Women's Day and since I'm a firm believer in International Better Late Than Never Day, I thought I thought I'd add my little contribution to the celebration. Or at least highlight a great post from someone else.

Computer Scientist Amy Csizmar Dalal's recent blog post Does Barbie's career matter? has some great things to say about the importance of role models and positive examples for girls who might be interested in scientific or technical careers:

I was a somewhat normal (don't laugh too hard) but nerdy kid growing up who loved math and science. And while I had wonderful role models growing up, I had no technical role models at all. So I had these nerdy interests but no real idea what people could do with them, career-wise. It was my high school guidance counselor who clued me in to the world of engineering, and the rest, as they say, is history. And it's not like you can just accidentally take a class in engineering and decide to major in it--you have to know going in to college that engineering is what you want to do. So that intervention by my guidance counselor was crucial to where I ended up, career-wise. And more importantly, this intervention from my counsellor was the one and only message I heard about engineering while growing up. But that's all it took: one message from an adult I greatly respected.

So what messages do girls hear about technology growing up, and about their place in the technical world? Unlocking the Clubhouse, the seminal book by Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher, tells us that girls often aren't getting the message at home that being into computers is socially or intellectually acceptable. Peer pressure in junior high (and even before then) sends the strong message to girls that being a computer nerd is often a social death sentence. And the media? Well, how many images of successful women computer scientists have you seen on the news, on commercials, on TV, in movies, online, etc. lately?

Barbie is an icon, like it or not. And she can send a powerful message to young girls. So in the face of all the other negative messages about computer science that our girls are hearing, why not have Barbie rail against that message and present an alternative, a role model and anti-stereotype?

There's a nice pic of Computer Engineer Barbie here.

One small contribution I did make is to set up a display of books on Women in Science & Engineering in my library. We have a couple of shelves where I can display 30 or so books on a theme for students to look at or check out. It's a real quick and dirty display, one that's easy for me to set up and easy to maintain for the month it's up. The themes vary (January was career books, February on green technology) but every year in March I get out a pile of books on women in science and put them out. Over the course of the month, maybe a dozen or so get checked out; as they do, I just replace them with other books.

This year, as an added bonus, we're also highlighting my display on the York University Libraries home page: Women in Science: On display in March on the Steacie Science & Engineering Library Spotlight Bookshelf. Hurry up and catch it before the display changes.

Here are a couple of pictures of the display:


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Friday Fun: The Most Amazing Libraries in the World!

Mar 05 2010 Published by under friday fun, librarianship

The Huffington Post has a couple of posts featuring the most amazingly beautiful libraries in the world, Part One here and Part Two here.
Here's the text from the two posts:

Times are changing for libraries everywhere. But even as many libraries build their digital collections and amp up their technological offerings, we thought we'd take a step back and show our appreciation for the beauty of many of these vast collections of books. Below are some of the most amazingly beautiful libraries from around the world.

Let us know what you think of these and let us know your favorites.


Last month, we brought you a slideshow of the most amazing libraries in the world. The responses from readers were so full of suggestions that we couldn't resist running another batch of our favorites and yours. We're getting a lot of bad news about libraries recently, as funding drops and major cuts are made, but these buildings and collections remind us of how important libraries are, and how much they are worth saving!

The first library featured in Part Two is Canada's Library of Parliament.

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From the Archives: If you don't have a blog you don't have a resume (Part I)

I'm away for a couple of days, so I thought I'd fill in a bit with an oldy-buy-goody from February 4, 2009. It ended up being the first of three parts, with the other two being here and here. As usual, the first part got the most readers and comments, with the two after that being decidedly less popular. Go figure.


I was just going to call this post "On Blogging" but I decided I like Robert Scoble's rather provocative statement better. This is not to say that I agree with his rather extreme stance, because I definitely don't, but I think it's an interesting way to frame this rather long list of links I've collected over the last little while.

The point here is to make the case that blogging is good for your career. It's been good for me and it's been good for a lot of other people and I think it has potential for everyone.

Now, is everyone a blogger-in-waiting? Of course not. Would absolutely everyone actually benefit from blogging? Probably not. And if absolutely everyone did take up blogging, would the massive amount of noise generated actually cancel itself out and end up hardly benefiting anyone at all? Probably.

That being said, let's take a look at what's been making me think about blogging lately.

First of all, let's take a look at the Wired article that started all the fuss:

Thinking about launching your own blog? Here's some friendly advice: Don't. And if you've already got one, pull the plug.

Writing a weblog today isn't the bright idea it was four years ago. The blogosphere, once a freshwater oasis of folksy self-expression and clever thought, has been flooded by a tsunami of paid bilge. Cut-rate journalists and underground marketing campaigns now drown out the authentic voices of amateur wordsmiths. It's almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers. And why bother? The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter.

As Walt Crawford said during his recent OLA presentation, you know for sure that blogs have entered the useful tools stage of the technology life cycle when Wired says that they're dead, buried and useless because it's no longer possible to become a famous blogger overnight.

Well, I don't know about you, but I long ago gave up on being an A-list blog. So, does blogging actually offer anything to the average person? Is it possible to use a blog to build a reputation in a niche area?

Let's see what the blogosphere is telling us about these questions:

What's the motivation for any user-generated content on the web anyways? Why toil away in obscurity, commenting on YouTube videos or gaming sites or anywhere? Because there truly is a reputation economy out there that is divorced from money. And if you can build reputation that way, it's often possible to leverage that for real-world benefit (or just egoboo): Will Work for Praise: The Web's Free-Labor Economy

Beyond brand-hungry strivers, masses of free laborers continue to toil without ever seeing a payday, or even angling for one. Many find compensation in currencies that predate the market economy. These include winning praise from peers, earning an exalted place within a community, scoring thrills from winning, and finding satisfaction in helping others.

Of course, a lot of what happens is merely attention seeking, shouting "me me me" into the void. What's the point of attracting attention?

Attention is easy to measure:

  • You can record the number of people subscribing to your blog.
  • You can count the number of people citing your research papers.
  • You can point to your number of followers on Twitter or your number of friends on Facebook.

However, I do not blog or write research papers merely to grab attention. Instead, I seek to increase my reputation. While attention fluctuates depending on your current actions, reputation builds up over time based on your reliability, your honesty, and your transparency. To build a good reputation, you do not need to do anything extraordinary: you just need to be consistent over a long time.

So, blogging can build your reputation.

What does a library school student have to say about the benefits. These ideas are certainly applicable to anyone starting out in a new career or even faced with a potential job hunt mid-career:

A list of reasons why every library school student should become a blogger:

  1. Self-promotion.
    Let's face it: when you apply for your first full-time gig after graduation, your potential employer will be going through a stack of CVs from people just like you, and every single candidate will have an MLIS, and the vast majority of them will have some experience working in the field. If you don't make your CV stand out, it will never make it to the top of the pile, so you need something to show how special you are. Blogging shows that you're interested in the field and have ideas to contribute, so when you include your blog's URL on your CV, employers will take notice...

  2. Becoming part of the community
    As students, we're already part of a community; library programs tend to be small enough that we get to know most of our classmates, and this is important since we will likely work with many of these people in the future. But wouldn't it be great to have a network of contacts outside of school, made up of people who share your interests and are able to provide advice and support?...

  3. The opportunity to put your thoughts into writing
    If you're like me and enjoy writing, then keeping a blog is a fun way to organize your thoughts. If you're not like me, then keeping a blog is a way to encourage yourself to practice your writing.

There also seem to be a lot of caveats to the whole blogging thing in academia, though. Are the downsides real or just myths?

Blogging is dangerous for non-tenured faculty: Blogging will not get you tenure. Neither will giving talks worldwide. Tenure is usually granted because you were able to hold a decent research program, and you showed respect for the students. However, if blogging prevents you from getting tenure, something is very wrong with your blogging or your school...

Serious researchers have no time for blogging: Indeed, there is always another paper to write and more time to spend at the library, isn't there? Let me quote Downes on this: If you are spending time in meetings, spending time traveling or commuting to work, spending time reading books and magazines, spending time telephoning people (or worse, on hold, or playing phone tag) then you are wasting time that you could be spending connecting to people online.

Blogging distracts you away from the research: bloggers do not tend to write about their latest research results. We tend to write about ideas that will not make it into our research papers. Is it a distraction? It might be, but does blogging cause you to lose focus in your research? I doubt it...

That's it for now. Next time we'll have four more posts that take a look at the concrete benefits of blogging.

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Are Computing journals too slow?

Continuing the ongoing discussion about the publication habits of computing researchers that I've recently blogged about:

This time around, we have Moshe Vardi Revisiting the Publication Culture in Computing Research in the latest Communications of the ACM.

The May 2009 editorial and the August 2009 column attracted a lot of attention in the blogosphere. The reaction has been mostly sympathetic to the point of view reflected in both pieces. For example, Jeanette Wing asked in her blog: "How can we break the cycle of deadline-driven research?", and Filippo Menczer, in a Letter to the Editor published in the November 2009 issue, said: "I propose the abolition of conference proceedings altogether."

Not everyone, however, agreed with this point of view. For example, in another Letter to the Editor from the November 2009 issue, Jano van Hemert said: "For CS to grow up, CS journals must grow up first." Mr. van Hemert's issue with computing-research journals is that they are known to have "slow turnaround, with most taking at least a year to make a publish/reject decision and some taking much longer before publishing." Such end-to-end times, he argued, "are unheard of in other fields where journal editors make decisions in weeks, sometimes days."


What is the reason for the unacceptably slow turnaround time in computing-research journals? When considering this question, one must factor the problem into two separate issues: time from submission to editorial decision, and time from positive editorial decision to publication.


Let us now consider the editorial process in computing-research journals. Why is it soooo slow? Consider who is in charge of that process. It is not the publishers; it is the editors and referees. In other words, it is us. The process is slow because that is the way we run it. If we want it changed, it is up to us to change it! I suspect that we cannot separate our conference-focused publication culture from our sluggish journal editorial process. Conferences have sharp deadlines, journals do not. We simply do not take our roles as editors and referees as seriously as we do as program committee members because we do not take journals as seriously as other fields. If we, as a community, decide that we need to shift from conference-based publication to journal-based publication, we definitely must address the slow editorial process, but we should not complain about "them journals." We have found the enemy, and it is us! (emphasis added -JD)

Now, I'm not going to comment on whether or not reviewers or editors take to long to do their job, or whether or not computing should be a journal-based or a conference-based field. I'm not even going to comment on whether or not those two things are related.

On the contrary, I'd like to see the "problem" of "slow journals" as an opportunity to talk about disruptive change in scholarly publishing. Here we are in the most disruptive age imaginable for scholarly communications, here we are talking about computing -- and yet it all comes down to time lines for peer review.

What's the real opportunity?

Perhaps the opportunity isn't to ask, "Are Computing journals too slow?" but to ask, "What do Computing scholars really need?"

What really interests me is the potential for the transformation of a disciplinary scholarly communications culture, the opportunity to start from scratch and build something that makes sense for all the stakeholders, not just entrenched interests, commercial forces and historical entitlements.

Realistically speaking, the incredible weight of history and cultural inertia probably make total transformation impossible in any kind of short or medium term. Societies aren't going away, journals aren't going away, scholarly conferences aren't going away. Even monographs aren't going away.

A couple of things do strike me, though.

Some questions:

  • If I was a computing person and I was going to start over with the whole scholarly communications apparatus, would I even bother with journals or conference proceedings at all?
  • Oh sure, I would still have conferences but mostly in resort cities with good bars and interesting museums and other tourist attractions. In other words, places that will stimulate interaction, investigation and collaboration, not more PowerPoint.
  • But seriously, in terms of actually communicating scientific or technical ideas in a structured, systematic and repeatable format, I probably need something like the arxiv.
  • The objects that would get deposited could include experimental narratives (ie. papers & reports, potentially with accompanying audio or video), code, data, presentations (slides and/or A/V), monograph-length material
  • I would also allow stuff that isn't research-based like informal presentations, course materials including syllabi, problem sets and other stuff.
  • Since we value peer review, I would probably do a few things.
    • Organize something like what PLoS ONE does for research-based materials, to make sure everything represents legitimate research output.
    • I would consider making all the reviewers' comments openly available, possibly even signed
    • Bolt on something like Friendfeed to aggregate commentary and discussion around the objects
    • I would also bolt on the kind of object-level metrics that PLoS is using.
  • Who pays? Again, I would use the PLoS model with author fees picking up production costs and organizing reviewing. The kinds of models that arxiv and SCOAP3 are exploring are also potentially viable.
  • None of this precludes the continued existence of a non-scholarly, general interest venue like the Communications of the ACM.

What am I missing? Is this too Utopian? How do you reboot a whole scholarly culture?

Perhaps even more interesting a question for us -- what's the library's role in the post-stuff collections age? Preservation, co-ordination, training, facilitating collaboration?

(Re: My Job in 10 Years book project: This is potentially an extract from the chapter on scholarly communications.)

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Canadian Engineering Education Association Conference, June 7-9, 2010.

The inaugural Canadian Engineering Education Association Conference will be held this year from June 7-9 at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.

The Canadian Engineering Education Association (CEEA) is a new organization whose mission is to "enhance the competence and relevance of graduates from Canadian Engineering schools through continuous improvement in engineering education and design education." This first annual CEEA conference will integrate and grow on the previous efforts of the Canadian Design Engineering Network (CDEN) and the Canadian Congress on Engineering Education (C2E2).

We encourage the broad community of engineering educators to join us - from Faculties of Engineering and Applied Science, Arts & Science, Education, Libraries, Teaching and Learning Centres, and Industry. Relevant student papers are also welcomed.

The call for papers is here.

Some information on the Canadian Engineering Education Association:

The membership driven organization will "enhance the competence and relevance of graduates from Canadian Engineering schools through continuous improvement in engineering education.

Our Goals:

  • Encourage and support the development and sharing of best practices between Canadian engineering educators.
  • Interact with the Canadian Deans of Engineering and the CEAB to facilitate alignment of objectives and mutual support.
  • Support all areas of engineering education including design, problem solving, leadership, communications, teamwork and global citizenship.
  • Engage students and student groups broadly for input and feedback.
  • Develop a sustainable organizational structure and operations

It looks to be a great conference and is definitely on my agenda for this coming June.

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