Archive for: July, 2011

Some resources for reference assistant training in a scitech library

Trust me, I really tried to come up with a cool, funny title for this post.


We have a new reference assistant starting here next week. As somewhat typical for such a position, the new staff member has a science subject background rather than a library background. In this case, Maps/GIS.

So I thought it might be a good idea to gather together some resources for helping our new hire get acclimatised to reference work in an academic science & engineering library. After all, we're not born with the ability to do good reference interviews!

With the help of the fine folk in Friendfeed, I've gathered together some very good general sources. As well, I've trawled through the archives from Issues in Science & Technnology Librarianship and Science & Technology Libraries to find some other good articles.

Of course, please feel free to suggest other resources that might be of help in the comments. Anything related to reference or just general life in scitech libraries would be appreciated.



S&TL (Warning: all toll access articles.)


Yeah, this is a ton of reading. The point isn't that someone should memorize every word, most of the the articles probably only need to be scanned. What I'm hoping for is a list of resources that will help someone get acclimatized to reference service and hopefully become aware of many of the main issues around such services in academic libraries. As well, there's a bit in here about some general issues in academic libraries.

Over time I can imagine adding to and pruning the list. As well, I can also imagine highlighting a few key resources with the rest in a more supporting role.

As I said above, suggestions are more than welcome.

Update 2011.07.19. Thanks to DJF on Friendfeed for pointing out the original citation for the Oranges & Peaches item. It's Dewdney, Patricia, and Gillian Michell. 1996. "Oranges and peaches: Understanding communication accidents in the reference interview" RQ 35 (4): 520.

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Friday Fun: It's here, it's here: A Dance with Dragons: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Five

Jul 15 2011 Published by under friday fun, science fiction

The world of fantasy genre fiction is finally happy this week. An incredibly long-awaited event has finally taken place.

George R.R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons, fifth book in the epic A Song of Ice and Fire series has finally been published.

With over five years since the last one, with much grumbling from the fans, the wait is over.

And people seem...underwhelmed.

The first three were amazing classics of the fantasy genre. I loved them, the way they combined fantasy tropes with a strong dose of reality. They were violent and brutal, just the way the world of political machinations really is.

And then the fourth book after a five year wait, A Feast for Crows. From my review:

The main problem with AFfC is that it is dull dull dull. Martin has taken the strengths of the series and turned them into flaws. A large cast of characters becomes bewildering and diffuse. Political intrigue becomes byzantine and pointless. Action and adventure leave centre stage and are replaced by endless wandering and political gabfests. The most compelling characters, Tyrion and Dani? Left to the next volume.

So, the problems are structural. There's still lots of good stuff here -- the last 100 pages or so save the novel from train-wreck status -- with the main plot being somewhat advanced. The problem is really that of length. At least two or three of the viewpoint characters could have been completely removed, such as Brienne's story. That could have been reduced to a paragraph in the Jaime thread easily. Also, some of the threads were massively over-emphasized. Cercei is the main example of this one: her story could have been effectively told in about half the space. One of the best bits, the story of the Iron Islands, should have told in a more focussed way, instead it was very diffuse.

If you check out the reviews on Amazon, my opinions, while hardly universal, are quite representative of a large segment of the fan base. The average score for the fourth is much lower than for the first three.

And judging from the reviews on Amazon, this new one is much the same, if slightly better.

Here's a sample of the current roster of Amazon's "Most helpful reviews:"

You get the idea. The average score is about 3.5 stars, compared to about 3 stars for book four and around 4.5 for the first three.

So, will I actually read the damn thing? Almost definitely. But I'm not in a rush. My younger son is racing through the first few books and if his momentum takes him through to ADwD, I'll pick it up for him and read it myself., of course, is doing a fine job of building up excitement for the ADwD with some great items on the blog:

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D-Lib, July/August 2011: Digital Library and Archive Services

The latest D-Lib has a bunch of really interesting articles:

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Issues in Science & Technology Librarianship, Spring 2011

As usual, a wealth of interesting articles in the latest ISTL:

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Questions & answers around thought leadership

A few weeks ago I answered the daily thought leadership countdown questions that were posed by the TEDxLibrariansTO conference. I enjoyed the process, forcing myself to respond to thoughtful and interesting questions every day, even on busy challenging days where I wouldn't normally make an effort to find the time for blogging.

However, since they were all branded with "TEDxLibrarians" name in the title, I don't think people who weren't attending the conference bothered to read them. As such, several of the posts had unusually low readership.

So I;m gathering them all here in the hopes that those that missed them first time around might enjoy them this time.

The original TEDx posts can be found here and my responses here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.


Question 1: Name one thing we could do right now in order to be perceived as thought leaders outside the profession.

My Answer: Predictably, perhaps, I'll answer that we should mostly (but not completely) stop attending and presenting at librarian conferences and instead attend and present at the conferences our community members attend and present at. For academic librarians, this means attending disciplinary conferences as well as conferences on curriculum and pedagogy in higher education.

Check out my Manifesto for more.

Question 2: How do we recognize a thought leader?

My Answer: I'm not sure if this means recognize as in identify or recognize as in reward and acknowledge.

For the former, I think we need to try and track which librarians are embedded in their communities and making a difference in a way that really reflects the values of librarianship. In other words, for an academic librarian, say, a thought leader would be someone who blogs at a general higher education site, like Barbara Fister.

For the latter, let's invite them to write and talk about their experiences at the librarian conferences we do attend and in the blogs and journals we read.

Question 3: Are the loudest voices online actually representative of important thought currents?

My Answer: Sometimes yes and sometimes no. This one is really hard to quantify in anything other than an anecdotal sense.

My tendency here is to encourage and develop a healthy skepticism about those loudest online voices, to try and understand where they are coming from, what their goals are, what their biases are, who they represent and what's in it for them.

In other words, I try and bring librarian values to bear on that particular question.

I also recognize and understand that the most valuable voices are often the quietest and that we should try and pay attention to the less hype-ridden corners of the online world as much as to the busiest part.

Question 4: What should we expect/demand of our thought leaders?

I'm not sure I like the way this question is phrased, preferring something like, "What do thought leaders actually do?" We certainly shouldn't demand anything of our thought leaders, it's not like we're paying them to do their jobs. Even "expectations" seems like a strong word.

To a large extent, thought leaders just are. I'm not sure we can speak of "followers" having "expectations" of leaders in the same way we could in a more traditional organizational or institutional context.

So what do I "expect" of a thought leader? To just continue to be themselves.

In my experience, thought leaders that become too conscious of their status as thought leaders, who pander to who they perceive as their followers, well, they become parodies of themselves.

Question 5: We can't all be thought leaders all the time. Often, by necessity we are followers. So, what does it mean to follow a thought leader well?

Once again, this question makes me a bit uncomfortable.

The only thing I want to say here is that I don't think we should follow "thought leaders" in the same sense that we would follow our bosses or political leaders.

We respect thought leaders by listening to their ideas, critically evaluating them and judging whether or not adopting or advancing those ideas makes sense in our own context. These are the values that librarians promote in our own practice so we should walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

Question 6: How can experience of failure contribute to making an effective thought leader?

Failure is useful for a thought leader in the same way that it's useful for everyone. We can learn a lot from our failures: how to dust ourselves off and start over, how to rethink what we've done before and learn from our mistakes, how to put what we do in a larger interpersonal, organizational and social context. After all, just as we rarely succeed alone, we also rarely fail alone. Sure, the act of failure may be uniquely our own but very often we end up dragging others down with us.

Hopefully the most important thing we can all learn from failure is a bit of humbleness. Thought leaders by definition are going to need to be confident and forthright. They are going to need the inner strength to be able to stand up and state their ideas in full view, to take their lumps and engage in vigorous debate.

But they also need to be able to see the web of interconnections between all the stakeholders their ideas may influence. They need to be honest and realistic about the value and scope of their ideas, not over-hype or over-universalize or oversell.

I'll admit to being generally quite skeptical about thought leaders in general and in particular of self-proclaimed thought leaders.

It's those thought leaders that are the most desperate to be recognized as such, who most need the accolades and attention that come with being an influential expert or important innovator -- they are the ones I instinctively distrust.

And it's often because they seem to lack a certain humbleness. It's difficult to balance confidence and humbleness, I know, but those are the thought leaders I really value.

(Am I throwing stones in a glass house here? Am I a self-proclaimed thought leader whose immense hubris has lead me to publish this delusional and ill-advised screed? I'm afraid I just can't tell. You'll have to let me know.)

Question 7: What venues are available to us to constructively criticize each others ideas?

This is a tough one as I've been involved in a few Internet scrapes myself over the years. But I'll have to go with the rough and tumble dialogue we see online in blogs and on Twitter and Friendfeed as the best places to debate and criticize each others ideas.

It can be unpleasant and angry and seemingly uncivil at times but it's the best and most honest and open forum we have.

Question 8: What are the similarities or characteristics of thought leaders that you know? Tell us about the attributes that your ideal thought leader would have.

I don't think any one person could actually have all the qualities of the idea thought leader but there are some commonalities across the ones I've encountered.

  • Originality. A thought leader needs to bring something new to the public sphere, or at very least take an established idea and present it in a fresh, original way.
  • Humbleness or Humility. A thought leader needs to be able to understand and accept their own limitations and the limitations of their ideas.
  • Vision. Not all thought leaders will have a vision of how things could be improved or changed, but most will.
  • Consistency. A thought leader needs to have a focus and not be jumping around a bunch of different ideas. While they need to be flexible and adaptable, wishy-washy probably won't work either.
  • Articulate and Accessible. They need to be able to explain their ideas clearly and concisely.
  • Domain Knowledge. A thought leader needs to actually know something and not just guess or speculate or BS.
  • Perspective. And by this I mean a kind of awareness of the scope and limitations of their ideas. They also need a solid historical context about their domain area of expertise so that they're not just repeating what others have said before. They need to understand what their ideas mean and how they apply to the world. They need to avoid any kind of false universalization and over generalization -- that's what annoys me most. I'm a grownup, I can take complexity. This is kind of where I would distinguish between a thought leader and a guru. Thought leaders are closer to what we would understand as public intellectuals -- people that really have something to offer. Whereas a guru would more likely be someone who's ideas were ultimately empty or superficial.

Question 9: What means should librarians choose to encourage their institutions to embrace change?

I'm not sure I know how to approach even beginning to answer this question other than to just say 42!

However, I was lucky enough to attend Drew Dudley's amazing keynote address at yesterday's York IT Day conference. He really talked about redefining leadership in a such a way that everyday everyone has a chance to add value to their lives and organizations. Everyone can make a difference just by being more mindful of how they conduct their everyday lives.

I really liked how he used six questions we can all ask ourselves everyday to frame his value adding strategy.

With Drew's permission, here they are:

  1. What have you done today to be helpful?
  2. What have you done today to make it more likely you will learn something?
  3. What have you done today to make it more likely someone else will learn something?
  4. Have you said something positive about someone to their face today?
  5. Have you said something positive about someone when they're not even in the room today?
  6. What have you done today to be good to yourself?

It's a start. Make a difference.

(More on the questions forthcoming in Anyone Can Make the Waitress Laugh: 'Lollipop Moments' and Redefining Leadership by Drew Dudley)

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Friday Fun: We Don't Need No Steenkin' Social Media Gurus

I chose this one more for the humourous title of the post since the content itself is very seriously intentioned.

I almost see this as a double sequel to both the social media evilness post and to some of my recent ramblings on thought leadership.

The post in question is We Don't Need No Steenkin' Social Media Gurus by York prof Robert Kozinets.

After I had left the stage and assumed a position within the audience, beer in hand, a woman began talking to me in the crowd. Let's call her "Jennifer." Jennifer told me that she knew nothing about social media even a few weeks ago, but that her husband had bought her an iPad for their anniversary and now she was devoting all sorts of time to learning it. She had driven up from Niagara Falls -about a 2-hour drive-in order to see the Social Media Day event.

"I want to become a social media guru," she said to me, with a big, winning, business-y smile.

Gotta tell ya, Jennifer. That's just about the last thing the world needs. That, another horndog politician, and four bucks will get you a Starbucks latte.


So please forgive me for being more than a little ticked off at the gathering of "Social Media Gurus" like ants at the proverbial picnic. While this boom is still booming, they will keep swarming. And I feel entitled to spray a little Raid.

As far as I am concerned, if someone comes up and tells you they are a social media guru, they are telling you, essentially, that they have a Facebook and Twitter account, talk about it to their friends and family, and hope to one day cash in on their "spiffy mailing list" of 406 friends and 217 followers. Maybe they have even written one of the 968 popular business press books about social media you can find lying around the shelves of your local bookstore like old remaindered copies of The Celestine Prophesy or The Coming Stock Market Crash of 2003. (emphasis mine. -jd)

Read the whole thing. It's truly wonderful. And the last line is priceless, but I'll leave it to you to discover.

Consider this Part Whatever in my ongoing "making fun of social media/tech mavens" series:

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Welcome to YASBC: Scientific American Blogs

Yet another science blogging community. The more the merrier.

We've had another quiet period in the science blogging universe these last couple of months. It seems that the rapid evolution that kicked off with the founding of Scientopia in the wake of Pepsigate is continuing.

And this is the big one: Scientific American Blogs. This is easily the biggest and most important science blogging community launch since ScienceBlogs itself launched back in 2006.

Of course, it was engineered by the master of us all, Bora Zivkovic.

Here's what he has to say about the makeup of the network:


The vision for the blog network I have is a collection of people who bring to Scientific American a diversity of expertise, backgrounds, writing formats, styles and voices, who will bring diverse audiences to Scientific American. They differ in typical lengths of posts, in posting frequency, in the "reading level" of their work, in the use of non-textual media, and in their approach to science communication. Each one of them will appeal to a different segment of our readership: from kids to their teachers, parents and grandparents, from the hip-hop culture to the academic culture, from kindergarteners to post-docs.

Another thing I was particularly interested in was to find bloggers who in some way connect the "Two Cultures" as described by C.P.Snow. Some connect science to history, philosophy, sociology or ethics. Many are very interested in science education, communication and outreach. Some make connections between science and popular culture, music, art, illustration, photography, cartoons/comic strips, poetry, literature, books, movies, TV, video, etc. Several produce such cross-discipline and cross-cultural material themselves - at least two are musicians, two are professional photographers, several produce videos, two are professional artists, a couple are authors of multiple books, some produce their own blog illustrations. But there are also commonalities - they all have strong knowledge of their topic, they strictly adhere to the standards of scientific evidence, they are all very strong writers, and they are all enthusiastic to share their work with a broader audience.

When I put together this group, with such diverse interests and styles, it was not surprising to discover that, without really having to try hard to make it so, they also display diversity in many other areas: geography, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, personal/professional/scientific background and more. This is something that is important for science, and is important in the science blogging world.

So, as I expect that several of you are already counting, let me make this easy for you. We have 47 blogs with 55 bloggers. Of those, our editors and staff make up 13 people (8 women, 5 men), while independent bloggers make up the difference with 42 of them (25 women, 17 men). That is a total of 22 men and 33 women writing on our network. The age ranges from 22 to 58, with the mean around 32 and median around 31 (at least when including those who are willing to admit their age).

While geographic concentration in New York City is mainly due to the fact that most editors and staff have to come to our NYC office every morning, the rest of the bloggers are from all over the country and the world (see the map of some of their birthplaces) and also currently live all over the place (see the map) and, as academic and other jobs require, move around quite often. Right now, other urban centers with multiple bloggers are Vancouver city and area (4), Triangle NC and surrounding area (4), Urbana-Champaign, IL (3), Los Angeles, CA (3), London, UK (3), Columbus, OH (2) and Austin TX (2). There are bloggers in Australia, Italy, Netherlands, Canada (5) and the UK (6). And the birthplaces also include Trinidad, Hong Kong, Belgrade (Serbia) and Moscow, Russia (two bloggers).

This will take a few days to sink in, for sure. It'll take even longer for us all to ponder the meaning and evaluate the repercussions.

But most of all, I have to say I'm super-impressed about the strength and breadth of the contributors. It's a world-beating bunch with some of the best formerly-independent bloggers on board as well as some very strategic names lured from other networks either moving their blogs outright or starting a new one for SciAm. (Of course, having a librarian in the mix would have been nice too...)

Is ScienceBlogs dead? I don't think so. But certainly we're in an era where ScienceBlogs is clearly only one network among many, each with different traffic levels, different emphasis, different blogger configurations. It's not hard to imagine ScienceBlogs settling in at around 35-40 blogs after the current wave of disruption, especially leading into the merger with National Geographic. That would be around half the number of blogs from the peak and will probably represent around a quarter (or less) of the traffic from that time. On the other hand, it might end up being more focused and start to feel more like a unified community again.

Competition in the science blogging community space is a good thing, it spurs us all on to improve and innovate. A new network doesn't mean that the existing ones are less relevant or that the bloggers at those networks are somehow suddenly inferior to those at the new networks. The grass isn't necessarily greener on the other side of the fence, the new and shiny don't permanently diminish the familiar.

Personally, I don't see a compelling reason to move at this point in time.

We live in interesting times. And that's a good thing for all of us.

Finally, from Bora's post, here's a list of the blogs with authors, where mentioned. There's lots more information about the blogs and bloggers at the original post:

Editorial Blogs

  • @Scientific American
  • Observations
  • The Network Central
  • Expeditions
  • The Scientific American Incubator is a new experiment. The Incubator will be a place where we will explore and highlight the work of new and young science writers and journalists, especially those who are currently students in specialized science, health and environmental writing programs in schools of journalism. There, we will discuss the current state and the future of science writing, and promote the best work that the young writers are doing.
  • Guest Blog

Blogs by Scientific American editors, writers and staff

  • A Blog Around The Clock by Bora Zivkovic
  • Anecdotes from the Archive by Mary Karmelek. You may have heard that Scientific American is almost 166 year old. That is a lot of archives to go through. Mary Karmelek is digitizing all those archives, and while she does that she often encounters interesting old articles and images that make great topics for blog posts: to see how the world has changed since then, and what we've learned in the intervening decades
  • Budding Scientist by Anna Kuchment
  • Degrees of Freedom by Davide Castelvecchi
  • Solar at Home by George Musser,
  • Streams of Consciousness by Ingrid Wickelgren

Independent blogs and bloggers


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On fake civility

Jul 02 2011 Published by under academia, librarianship, social media

Libraryland is sometimes plagued with a civility problem.

We disagree but we want to be nice about it. But sometimes, being nice isn't a great way to express disagreement. Life and the world is messy and unkind and difficult. And sometimes our commitment to our ideas and passionate disagreements need to reflect that.

But the temptation for those in power -- those at whom the anger is often directed -- need to keep a lid on the very human anger and resentments that often boil over in what might seem like minor disagreements. It's hard to control those kinds of deep feelings and the best way to control the conversation can often be to control, diffuse and dispossess the anger.

Not always, of course, sometimes the anger can go overboard. Threats and serious character assassination aren't acceptable. But really, I think the bar should be very high before a call for civility is used to shut down the argument.

I like the way Bora Zivkovic puts it in a recent tweet:

Call for fake, condescending "civility" = avoidance of substance = maintaining the illusion that 'we are above you':

The Washington Post article he points to is MSNBC's suspension of Mark Halperin is way over the top, about a commentator that was suspended for using some vaguely inappropriate language:

I'm sorry, but this is crazy. Halperin's crack was crude and dumb, but it doesn't deserve indefinite suspension. Halperin's use of an expletive is trival when compared with the degradation of our political discourse we witness on a regular basis from Halperin and many others -- degradation that is seen as perfectly acceptable because no curse words are employed. Suspending Halperin only reinforces a phony definition of "civility" in our discourse, in which it's unacceptable to use foul language and be "uncivil," but it's perfectly acceptable for reporters and commentators to allow outright falsehoods to pass unrebutted; to traffic endlessly in false equivalences in the name of some bogus notion of objectivity; and to make confident assertions about public opinion without referring to polls which show them to be completely wrong.


I care that Halperin does dumb things like parroting GOP predictions of a big victory when all available evidence is pointing the other way, as he famously did in the runup to the 2006 elections. I don't care as much that he used the word "dick." Suspending Halperin indefinitely for this only reinforces the bogus idea that a crass and dumb slip into foul language is worse than all this other stuff we see on a regular basis.

In other words, what he was really saying was discounted because he showed a bit of very human anger in the way he expressed himself.

Now, I'm not going to pretend I'm not incredibly torn by this whole issue. Slagging people left and right isn't discourse. No one should have total carte blanche in terms of insulting or accusatory language and behaviour. And no, I don't know what the boundaries are between "acceptable anger" and going too far.

And yes, I've been angry on the Internet in a way that perhaps wasn't the most productive. But I always hope that people will give me the benefit of the doubt when I overstep. And I always hope I'll have the courage and grace to give others that same benefit when their passion spills over a little into anger.

I really don't have definitive answers, only more questions.

What do you think?

And yes, feel free to let me know how you really feel, here or via email at jdupuis at yorku dot ca if you'd prefer not to go on the record.

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Friday Fun: Summer Conference Director Suspended for Damning Youth Group to Hell

Jul 02 2011 Published by under friday fun

You would think what with me being Canadian and all and this being the day after Canada Day, I'd somehow try and find the energy to hunt up a nice piece of Canadian humour to highlight in my weekly Friday Fun feature.

We Canadians are pretty funny, after all.

I guess it's even more Canadian not to bother highlighting or promoting other Canadians. Tall poppy syndrome, eh?

Anyways, this one from The Cronk of Higher Ed is pretty funny: Summer Conference Director Suspended for Damning Youth Group to Hell.

Dr. Charlotte Digges, president of Lottie University, issued a statement today condemning the actions of Mr. Crawford Howell, director of summer conferences. "We at Lottie University value our long-standing partnership with the Greater Eastern Baptist Convention and, as a result of Mr. Howell's outrageous comments, we have removed him from the Summer Conference program effective immediately."

According to witnesses, Mr. Howell told a group of youth attending the annual Greater Eastern Baptist Convention conference that he hopes they "burn for all eternity in the fiery pits of hell, right next to Sadaam Hussein and Osama bin Laden." It is unknown what brought about the outburst, but it appears to have followed an incident where the youth engaged in a violent food fight and failed to help clean up the dining hall.

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