Archive for: May, 2010

Books I'd Like to Read

May 31 2010 Published by under books I'd like to read, education, science books

For your reading and collection development pleasure:

137: Jung, Pauli, and the Pursuit of a Scientific Obsession by Arthur I. Miller

"The history is fascinating, as are the insights into the personalities of these great thinkers."--New Scientist Is there a number at the root of the universe? A primal number that everything in the world hinges on? This question exercised many great minds of the twentieth century, among them the groundbreaking physicist Wolfgang Pauli and the famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Their obsession with the power of certain numbers--including 137, which describes the atom's fine-structure constant and has great Kabbalistic significance--led them to develop an unlikely friendship and to embark on a joint mystical quest reaching deep into medieval alchemy, dream interpretation, and the Chinese Book of Changes. 137 explores the profound intersection of modern science with the occult, but above all it is the tale of an extraordinary, fruitful friendship between two of the greatest thinkers of our times.

Sex, Bombs and Burgers: How War, Porn and Fast Food Shaped Technology As We Know It by Peter Nowak

War. Fast Food. Pornography. Pervasive in our culture, these three obsessions may seem to represent the worst qualities of humankind. But what have our lust, greed and rage driven us to achieve?

In this surprising and original book, Peter Nowak argues that most of the major technological advances of the last sixty years have stemmed from the trio of billion-dollar industries that cater to our basest impulses. From Saran Wrap to aerosols, digital cameras to cold medicine and GM foods to Google, many of the gadgets and conveniences we enjoy today can be traced back to either the porn, military or fast food industry.

Nowak reveals such unexpected links as:

-how the inventors of toys like Barbie and the Slinky perfected their creations with military-tech know-how.
-why "one giant leap for mankind" brought us better hospital meals and stricter food quality control guidelines.
-how innovations in the adult-film industry will help us build better robotic limbs.

If you've ever wondered what inspired the invention of Java, online video streaming or even Tupperware -- well, you might not want to know the answer. But you will find it in this book. (From

Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age by Clay Shirky

Since we Americans were suburbanized and educated by the postwar boom, we've had a surfeit of intellect, energy, and time-what Shirky calls a cognitive surplus. But this abundance had little impact on the common good because television consumed the lion's share of it-and we consume TV passively, in isolation from one another. Now, for the first time, people are embracing new media that allow us to pool our efforts at vanishingly low cost. The results of this aggregated effort range from mind expanding-reference tools like Wikipedia-to lifesaving-such as, which has allowed Kenyans to sidestep government censorship and report on acts of violence in real time.

Shirky argues persuasively that this cognitive surplus-rather than being some strange new departure from normal behavior-actually returns our society to forms of collaboration that were natural to us up through the early twentieth century. He also charts the vast effects that our cognitive surplus-aided by new technologies-will have on twenty-first-century society, and how we can best exploit those effects. Shirky envisions an era of lower creative quality on average but greater innovation, an increase in transparency in all areas of society, and a dramatic rise in productivity that will transform our civilization.

A Better Pencil by Dennis Baron

A Better Pencil puts our complex, still-evolving hate-love relationship with computers and the internet into perspective, describing how the digital revolution influences our reading and writing practices, and how the latest technologies differ from what came before. The book explores our use of computers as writing tools in light of the history of communication technology, a history of how we love, fear, and actually use our writing technologies--not just computers, but also typewriters, pencils, and clay tablets. Dennis Baron shows that virtually all writing implements--and even writing itself--were greeted at first with anxiety and outrage: the printing press disrupted the "almost spiritual connection" between the writer and the page; the typewriter was "impersonal and noisy" and would "destroy the art of handwriting." Both pencils and computers were created for tasks that had nothing to do with writing. Pencils, crafted by woodworkers for marking up their boards, were quickly repurposed by writers and artists. The computer crunched numbers, not words, until writers saw it as the next writing machine. Baron also explores the new genres that the computer has launched: email, the instant message, the web page, the blog, social-networking pages like MySpace and Facebook, and communally-generated texts like Wikipedia and the Urban Dictionary, not to mention YouTube.

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

The best-selling author of The Big Switch returns with an explosive look at technology's effect on the mind. "Is Google making us stupid?" When Nicholas Carr posed that question, in a celebrated Atlantic Monthly cover story, he tapped into a well of anxiety about how the Internet is changing us. He also crystallized one of the most important debates of our time: As we enjoy the Net's bounties, are we sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply?

Now, Carr expands his argument into the most compelling exploration of the Internet's intellectual and cultural consequences yet published. As he describes how human thought has been shaped through the centuries by "tools of the mind"--from the alphabet to maps, to the printing press, the clock, and the computer--Carr interweaves a fascinating account of recent discoveries in neuroscience by such pioneers as Michael Merzenich and Eric Kandel. Our brains, the historical and scientific evidence reveals, change in response to our experiences. The technologies we use to find, store, and share information can literally reroute our neural pathways.

Building on the insights of thinkers from Plato to McLuhan, Carr makes a convincing case that every information technology carries an intellectual ethic--a set of assumptions about the nature of knowledge and intelligence. He explains how the printed book served to focus our attention, promoting deep and creative thought. In stark contrast, the Internet encourages the rapid, distracted sampling of small bits of information from many sources. Its ethic is that of the industrialist, an ethic of speed and efficiency, of optimized production and consumption--and now the Net is remaking us in its own image. We are becoming ever more adept at scanning and skimming, but what we are losing is our capacity for concentration, contemplation, and reflection.

The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education by Curtis J. Bonk

Whether you are a scientist on a ship in Antarctic waters or a young girl in a Philippine village, you can learn whenever and whatever you want from whomever you are interested in learning it from.

As technologies have become more available, even in the most remote reaches of the world, and as more people contribute a wealth of online resources, the education world has become open to anyone anywhere. In The World Is Open, education technology guru Curtis Bonk explores ten key trends that together make up the "WE-ALL-LEARN" framework for understanding the potential of technology's impact on learning in the 21st century:

  • Web Searching in the World of e-Books
  • E-Learning and Blended Learning
  • Availability of Open Source and Free Software
  • Leveraged Resources and OpenCourseWare
  • Learning Object Repositories and Portals
  • Learner Participation in Open Information Communities
  • Electronic Collaboration
  • Alternate Reality Learning
  • Real-Time Mobility and Portability
  • Networks of Personalized Learning

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Friday Fun: Getting into some Manga!

May 28 2010 Published by under friday fun, science fiction

I've been slowly dipping my toes into the manga universe, trying to expand my comics/graphic novel horizon. Moyasimon, for example -- the 1st volume was very good. Beyond that, I've only read a couple of titles here and there.

Of course, like any good librarian I've been looking for lists to help me in my explorations.

Here's a nice list from Robin Brenner via Jeff Vandermeer:

  1. Antique Bakery by Fumi Yoshinaga
  2. Clover by CLAMP
  3. Death Note by Takeshi Obata and Tsugumi Ohba
  4. Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazuo Koike
  5. Monster by Naoki Urasawa
  6. Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa
  7. Planetes by Makoto Yukimura
  8. Yotsuba&! by Kiyohiko Azuma
  9. Ghost in the Shell by Shirow Masamune

And another, with handy genre hints:

  1. Rurouni Kenshin (chanbara) by Nobuhiro Watsuki
  2. Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind (fantasy) by Hayao Miyazaki
  3. Crying Freeman (crime) by Kazuo Koike
  4. Monster (thriller) by Naoki Urasawa
  5. Maison Ikkoku (comedy) by Rumiko Takahashi
  6. Berserk (fantasy) by Kentaro Miura
  7. Battle Angel Alita (cyberpunk) by Yukito Kishiro
  8. Blade Of The Immortal (chanbara) by Hiroaki Samura
  9. Nana (drama) by Ai Yazawa
  10. GTO (comedy) by Tohru Fujisawa

Some other lists are here, here, here and here

Of course, any reviews, suggestions and comments are more than welcome. In general, I like science fiction, horror and noir/hardboiled mystery so suggestions along those lines would be particularly helpful.

I already have some Nausicaa and Ooku lying around the house.

9 responses so far

My Job in 10 Years: Are A & I Services in a Death Spiral?

As I mentioned the other day, the most recent issue of ISTL is full of very fine articles.

The one that really caught my eye is the Viewpoints article Are A & I Services in a Death Spiral? by Valerie Tucci. It echoes a lot of the themes that I first wrote about way back in December 2006 -- that the traditional A&I services will have a lot of problems competing with services such as Google Scholar which are free to the user.

Here's some of what Tucci has to say:

Given all the changes what will the future bring for these services and how will it affect libraries, librarians, and users? I believe that the A&I services will follow the downward spiral of newspapers. However, some services will enlist the synergy of the death spiral in figure skating. With trust and communication the strengths of free and fee-based services will be combined. A partnership will develop in which fee-based services will adopt more of the artificial intelligence underlying free services while retaining the special features that make these services so valuable. For example, I predict various versions of the databases depending on the needs of the user with different interfaces (e.g., SciFinder and STN CAplus) and different cost structures. What I do not see is a growing demand for the fee-based products. I believe revenue will decline and publishers will have to find ways to replace this revenue. This said, I have to caution that an entirely new paradigm may evolve (e.g., Google Scholar charging for searching), or a disruptive technology will be developed which trumps all current search technologies.

I'm more or less in agreement with this sentiment. Expensive databases such as INSPEC or Compendex will be increasingly difficult to justify for strained library budgets. They're quirky and difficult sometimes, and you have to have good knowledge on how they work and are structured to get the most out of them. They're also really focused on top level research -- not the kinds of tools that undergrads will be using for their engineering design lab report.

The cost per search will be high, the groups that use it and find it important (librarians and some high-level faculty and grad students) will never use them enough to get that cost down much. And since they're databases that are served by a bunch of different interfaces, it can be hard to see where the real ground breaking innovation will come from. They're low-hanging fruit at budget time.

On the other hand, as far as I can tell, use for other databases such as Scopus and Web of Science (and SciFinder, to some extent) is still pretty healthy. They're run by large commercial organizations who aren't going to give up their market share and revenues easily and have the resources to back it up (yes, I said it, CAS is run like a commercial organization). They're relentlessly customer focused (if not perfect, of course), their focus on citations and other "vanity" products gets the attention of faculty.

They focus intensely and relentlessly on innovating their products (if not always successfully). And they market directly to faculty and research officers, driving demand from library users. It's a lot easier for us to spend big bucks if other on-campus groups are encouraging us with their support.

On the third hand, as Tucci states in her article, there are publisher and multipublisher article databases like IEEE Xplore or Scitopia or that also provide a way into content that will be good enough for a lot of users' needs. A potential new player is single library or consortial content aggregations. Ontario's Scholars Portal Journals project serves purchased full text journal content to all of Ontario's institutions of higher education, each institutions only seeing what they subscribe to. My institution's Scholars Portal Journals database has access to over fifteen million full text articles.

So, it's a race. A race between budget constraints, free services and "good enough" on one hand and innovation and marketing and value-added services on the other.

I think that ultimately Google Scholar and it's ilk will win the day and become the de facto academic finding tools, that they will add enough value to their free products to make subscribing to all those A&I services problematic at best. On the other hand, even in the 10 year time frame I wouldn't be too surprised to see one or two of the big products still standing, somehow having found a way to add real value to all the data that they have access to -- and maybe even some smaller super-niche products too. Publisher and consortial aggregations will still likely have a roll as hosts for content.

Of course, as I mentioned way back in 2006, Google or Microsoft could buy up all those A&I companies practically with their petty cash fund. And if Google can make us pay for Google Books Search, well, once they end up as the last academic search engine standing...

Interesting times.

6 responses so far

Issues in Science & Technology Librarianship, Spring 2010

Another terrific issue. I'm going to list everything but the book & database reviews & reports so as not to clutter the post too much.

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Friday Fun: New Social Networking Site Changing The Way Oh, Christ, Forget It!

May 21 2010 Published by under friday fun, social media

Funniest. Onion. Article. Ever.

New Social Networking Site Changing The Way Oh, Christ, Forget It: Let Someone Else Report On This Bullshit

Virtually every line is laugh-out-loud funny.

According to sources we feel really, really sorry for, Foursquare works by allowing users to "check in" from their present location, whether it be a bar, restaurant, nearby magazine stand, or man, this piece would be perfect to hand over to that schmuck Dan Fletcher at Time magazine right about now.

By "checking in," users can earn tangible, real-world rewards. For instance, the Foursquare user with the most points at any given venue earns the designation of "mayor" and can receive discounts, free food, or other prizes that, quite honestly, we're thoroughly disgusted with ourselves for having actually researched.

In addition, please, kill us already.

Read the whole thing. It will make your day.

(Yes, yes, I know, I'm a social media booster, a location-based services booster, a shinyshiny boster, the whole nine yards. On the other hand, I also like to think of myself as a reality-based booster so something sending up mindless hype just seems that much funnier to me.)

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Job posting: GIS and Map Librarian, York University Libraries

May 19 2010 Published by under job, yorku

Here's a pretty exciting opportunity at my institution. Although not a science library position per se, there will be ample opportunity to work with science and engineering faculty and students.

Position Rank: Full Time Tenure Stream - Assistant Librarian

Discipline/Field: GIS and Map Librarian

Home Faculty: Libraries

Home Department/Area/Division: Map Library

Affiliation/Union: YUFA

Position Start Date: December 1, 2010

GIS and Map Librarian, York University Libraries

York University Libraries seeks an enthusiastic and service-oriented librarian with excellent communication skills to fill the position of GIS and Map Librarian. The successful candidate will be a creative and self-motivated person who works well with colleagues in a challenging and dynamic environment.

York University offers a world-class, modern, interdisciplinary academic experience in Toronto, Canada's most multicultural city. York is at the centre of innovation, with a thriving community of almost 60,000 students, faculty, and staff who challenge the ordinary and deliver the unexpected.

Located in the Scott Library, the Map Library supports a print collection of 112,000 maps, 5,000 aerial photographs and 6,600 atlases and books, as well as an extensive digital geospatial data collection. This library is staffed by the GIS and Map Librarian along with an additional 1.5 full-time employees and 6 part-time student assistants. Services include reference, reserves, circulation, collection development and maintenance, as well as cartographic information literacy.

The candidate will lead in the teaching, reference, collection and liaison activities for geospatial and map resources. A priority for the library is working with faculty to integrate library GIS data resources and maps into the curriculum. The librarian will have special responsibility for the Department of Geography collection, liaison, and, information literacy activities at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The candidate will provide research and teaching support in the use of map resources and geospatial and non-geospatial data to researchers across the disciplines including social science, humanities, science and engineering. The GIS and Map Librarian will liaise with the broader geospatial community: campus, provincial, national and international. The candidate will work closely with the York Data Librarian.

The position includes the management of the Map Library, its services and collections. The incumbent will inspire and foster innovation in the delivery of frontline and virtual service to the user community, and will provide leadership in developing optimal access to geospatial and map resources. The incumbent will supervise staff in the Map Library, prepare annual budgets and other reports, and advise on processing print and electronic materials including metadata standards for digital resources and cartographic materials.

The successful candidate will have the following qualifications:

  • An ALA-accredited MLIS degree or equivalent with up to seven years post-MLIS experience.
  • Educational background relevant to geography, GIS and Maps.
  • Extensive knowledge of and expertise with the use of geospatial data and GIS software packages.
  • Will have completed some courses in geomatics or GIS.
  • Expertise with non-spatial data resources, and statistical software packages.
  • Demonstrated understanding of developing linkages between spatial and non-spatial data.
  • Evidence of leadership and professional initiative.
  • Ability to work with a large and diverse clientele.
  • Extensive knowledge of print map resources and principles of organization including indexes and cataloguing standards.
  • Knowledge of information sources relevant to the map library user community.
  • Demonstrated managerial skills.
  • Experience in web authoring and web support technologies.
  • Demonstrated understanding of the concepts, goals, and methods of information literacy instruction and ability to teach in a variety of settings and formats.
  • Effective analytical, written and oral communication skills, including demonstrated skills in training, and public communications.
  • Demonstrated ability to multi-task and be flexible in a dynamic work environment.
  • A demonstrated commitment to developing, maintaining and sharing technical expertise
  • A demonstrated ability to work creatively and effectively, both independently and collaboratively as a team member.
  • Willingness to undertake library and university committee responsibilities, professional development, research and scholarship.

The GIS and Map Librarian is a continuing tenure-stream appointment at the Assistant Librarian level and appropriate for a librarian with up to seven years post-MLIS experience. The length of term for head of the Map Library is up to five years with possibility of renewal.

Librarians at York University have academic status and are members of the York University Faculty Association bargaining unit ( Salary is commensurate with qualifications. The position is available to commence December 1, 2010. All York University positions are subject to budgetary approval.

York University is an Affirmative Action Employer. The Affirmative Action Program can be found on York's website at or a copy can be obtained by calling the affirmative action office at 416-736-5713. All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply; however, Canadian citizens and Permanent Residents will be given priority.

York University resources include centres relating to gender equity, race and ethnic relations, sexual harassment, human rights, and wellness. York University encourages attitudes of respect and non-discrimination toward persons of all ethnic and religious groups and regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

The deadline for applications is July 30th, 2010. Applications should include a cover letter relating the applicant's qualifications to the requirements of the position, a current curriculum vitae, and the names and contact details of three referees are requested. In addition, please have at least two of your three referees submit signed written letters of reference directly under separate cover by fax or mail by the deadline. Please ensure each referee is supplied with a copy of this position advertisement and asked to address the requirements of the position.

Applications can be sent to:

Chair, GIS and Map Librarian Appointment Committee
York University Libraries
310 Scott Library
4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario
M3J 1P3
Fax: (416) 736-5451

Applications should be sent by mail, or email/fax with a mail copy following.

Posting End Date: July 30, 2010

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Happy Blogiversary to me!

May 18 2010 Published by under blogging, personal

Yes, it was May 18, 2009 that I opened a new chapter in Confessions of a Science Librarian history.

One year on Scienceblogs -- it's been a fantastic experience, one that I'm looking forward to continuing for the foreseeable future.

Now, where's the cake?

10 responses so far

Music Mondays: Five Ronnie James Dio songs I really love

May 17 2010 Published by under music mondays

Yesterday was a very sad day in the hard rock/heavy metal community as Rainbow/Black Sabbath/Dio/Heaven & Hell vocalist Ronnie James Dio died at the age of 67.

I've been a big fan of Ronnie James Dio ever since way back in 1980 I heard the song Neon Knights, the first big song he did with Sabbath.

Five (ok, six) songs to remember him by.

BW&BW are collecting a lot of the reminiscences that are appearing around the net.

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Friday Fun: University Responds to Cry for More Parking by Destroying Academic Buildings

May 14 2010 Published by under friday fun

The Cronk of Higher Education is seriously my new very best friend. I work on a very large commuter campus and let's just say this very definitely resonated with me. I also take public transit to work every day through a very crowded and congested city, with my commute time varying from 60-90 minutes each way, sometimes worse if you include time waiting for the bus to arrive.

Take a look:

Bates explained that within the next eight months, all academic buildings at the university would be destroyed to create more available parking.

"Where the buildings once stood, we'll install JumboTron screens. Students and faculty will never have to leave their cars," Bates said. "It's progressive, like a drive-in classroom."

The new drive-in lots will be outfitted with audio transmitters, allowing students to hear lectures via their car stereos.

Lyle Beagley, chair of faculty senate, expressed the faculty's enthusiasm for the new plan.

"I think this plan is innovative and groundbreaking. It solves all sorts of problems from all perspectives," said Beagley.

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Raising your internal profile as an academic liaison librarian

By some strange coincidence given yesterday's post, this post on Raising your internal profile as an academic liaison librarian by Emma Woods came across my Twitter feed this morning.

As part of a task and finish group on internal marketing of academic liaison librarians at the University of Westminster, I posted a message to a couple of JISCmail lists to see what other librarians do in this respect. As ever, I was delighted by the number of responses I received and the amount of interest there is on this topic.

In the current financial climate where every penny counts, raising our internal profile has never been more vital. There are people making decisions on what jobs are vital to the institution's goals and they are not necessarily aware of what librarians contribute, making our posts vulnerable to redundancy. It has therefore never been more essential to make non-library colleagues sit up and take notice of the excellent work we do.

Twenty one replies were received. Below is a summary of the various activities librarians engage in to raise their profile.

Here's a selection. Go read the entire post!

Web 2.0

  • Yammer
  • Library blog.
  • Library on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Blogs based on faculties, which feed into a Twitter account.

One response so far

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