Archive for: February, 2013

Around the Web: Expanding Public Access to the Results of Federally Funded Research, What kind of researcher are you? and more

Feb 23 2013 Published by under around the web, open access

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Friday Fun: The 5 Most Badass Things Ever Done in the Name of Research

Feb 22 2013 Published by under academia, culture of science, friday fun

Cracked is as Cracked does. Especially in this case, where some researchers do some especially cracked things. Or more precisely, things they only could have thought of after being cracked on the head.

Librarian researchers, don't try this at your library!

The 5 Most Badass Things Ever Done in the Name of Research

5. Thor Heyerdahl Crosses the Pacific Ocean on a Raft

On the 101st day, they made it. The "boat" hit a reef in French Polynesia and beached on an uninhabited island. But it didn't prove his point; even though Heyerdahl had proved that the journey was possible, no one believed that this was actually how Polynesia was populated. Science basically patted him on the head for trying his best and told him to run along. Only recently has DNA testing revealed that there was definitely some DNA swapping between Polynesians and South Americans before Europeans made it to the islands in 1722, so everyone would decide that he was at least partially right, decades later. Totally worth it.

4. Alain Bombard Shipwrecks Himself on Purpose

3. Graham Hoyland Climbs Mount Everest With No Modern Gear

2. Tom Avery Sleds to the North Pole Using 1909 Methods

1. Well, you'll just have to click over to find out for yourself...

What's your favourite badass thing done in the name of research -- especially badass things you've done yourself!?

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Around the Web: You Build A Library with Books, The Big Errors of "Big Data" and more

Feb 20 2013 Published by under around the web

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Scitech librarians take note: The Western Conference on Science Education

The biennial Western Conference on Science Education will be taking place this coming July 9–July 11, 2013.

I'm thinking very seriously of going and I think science/engineering librarians in general should consider doing so as well.

Here's how they describe it:

The biennial Western Conference for Science Education creates an ongoing organizational infrastructure that invites teaching and research faculty, librarians and other educational professionals, regardless of their experience level, to collaborate on the improvement of post-secondary Science education through the exchange of experience, innovation, ideas, and research in teaching and learning across disciplines.

Although situated in the context of Canadian higher education in Science, the Western Conference recognizes that fundamental issues in teaching and learning often transcend disciplinary, institutional, and national boundaries. Participation by colleagues working outside the country, or outside the traditional disciplines of Science, is welcome.

Specifically, the Western Conference for Science Education is designed to create and sustain an on-going organizational structure that:

  1. enhances a Science education community by enticing faculty and educational staff to venture out of their respective discipline-specific circles to meet, discuss, and collaborate with one another;
  2. promotes ongoing improvement in post-secondary Science education through support of a range of scholarly approaches to teaching and learning;
  3. contributes to the professional development of Science educators by providing access to educational leaders, resources, and training;
  4. promotes productive inter-relationships between educators and various private sector academic publishers, suppliers, technology providers etc;
  5. provides an avenue to share ideas, innovation, and research;
  6. ensures that Conference proceedings are archived and accessible.

Conferences are planned for every other year after 2013. On off-years, we encourage other colleagues, organizations and institutions to host synergistic events that benefit from, and in turn increase, the momentum created by the Western Conferences.

The call for proposals is here and the submission guidelines here.

The conference topic threads have a lot of scope for the kinds of work librarians do:

Thread A: Teaching and Learning Science
Thread B: Evaluation of Learning
Thread C: Curriculum
Thread D: Education Technologies and Innovative Resources
Thread E: Other

And the session formats leave a lot of leeway for interesting ways to pitch that work. In particular, the "Short & Tweet" format seems to have a lot of possibility for advocacy.

  • Workshops: Workshops are highly participatory hands-on 80 minute sessions allowing participants to come away with a product, tool, or skill.
  • Presentations: Presentations are 40 minute sessions providing the opportunity for presenters to engage with their peers in the form of a traditional paper, novel demonstration, provocative debate, or other creative formats. When appropriate, two complementary presentations will be paired.
  • Short and Tweets: This is an engaging 14.0 minute live presentation that will be summarized in 140 characters. Short and Tweets will be collected and presented in six-packs.
  • Posters: Posters are self-explanatory visual displays offered in a format that promotes informal dialogue between the poster’s author(s) and their peers. At least one of the poster's authors will be available for discussion during the Poster Session.

The Canadian Engineering Education Association annual conference (June 17-20) is another I'm considering for the spring/summer and I know that it's also a very good conference for engineering librarians.

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Publisher hits new low: Suing librarian for criticizing their books

So here's the rather strange story.

Way back in 2010, librarian Dale Askey, then of Kansas State University, wrote a blog post critical of the humanities monograph publisher Edwin Mellen. Basically, he stated that the publishers' low quality did not justify their high prices. No big deal, really, librarians have lots of opinions about publishers and share them all the time around the water cooler, at conferences and online. But perhaps foreshadowing what was coming, Askey remarked in his post: "Given how closely Mellen guards its reputation against all critics, perhaps I should just put on my flameproof suit now."

Fast forward to 2012, with Askey now Associate University Librarian at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario:

Edwin Mellen Press, an academic publisher with offices in upstate New York and Britain, filed two lawsuits in June in Ontario’s Superior Court. The first implicates Askey and McMaster, his current employer and employer for some of the time the blog post was live, as "vicariously liable" for his statements, and claims libel and exemplary damages in the amount of $3.5 million. A second suit, filed against Askey alone, claims more than $1 million in similar damages (the individual suit names Herbert Richardson, press founder, as plaintiff and alleges additional, defamatory remarks directed against him personally on the blog).


Suing a librarian for being critical about your products is clearly a massive overreaction. There are better ways to respond, surely.

But here we are. Academic librarians have academic freedom in their positions to protect us from just this sort of undue influence on the exercise of our judgement while doing our jobs. This intimidation is unacceptable.

So what are next steps? First of all, we should all keep up the pressure on blogs and twitter and other places online. It would be great to see more faculty blogging and tweeting about this, and faculty all across the disciplinary map too. Librarians work for the interests of their entire campus constituency and I'd hate to think this could set any sort of precedent.

Sign the petition, if you're so inclined. I have. And most of all, we should continue to air our honest opinions about publishers and their products, both in person and online.

As is my occasionally obsessive practive, I've gathered the various commentaries I've seen around the web below.



The story chronologically:

If I've made any errors in the above list or missed any other relevant items, please let me know in the comments or at jdupuis at yorku dot ca.

(Academic librarianship is a small world. I've met Dale Askey once or twice at conferences.)

Update 2013.02.10. Added a bunch I missed.
Update 2013.02.11. Added another bunch, some new and some I missed.
Update 2013.02.13. More added, mostly new with a few stragglers.
Update 2013.02.13. Added MUALA statement.
Update 2013.02.13. Added OCULA statement.
Update 2013.02.14. More added, mostly new and a few older ones.
Update 2013.02.15. More added.
Update 2013.02.20. Fairly sizable update, including a couple of more historical background items at the end of the General section.
Update 2013.02.27. More added, all from February 19th on.
Update 2013.03.17. Big update with 60ish items added.
Update 2013.03.30. Update mostly about threatening letter to The Scholarly Kitchen. The withdrawn posts are here and here
Update 2014.02.24. Big update, long delayed. Prompted by Dale Askey being awarded the 2014 Award for the Advancement of Intellectual Freedom in Canada and the Progressive Librarians Guild Toronto Area Chapter being awarded the Les Fowlie Intellectual Freedom Award. Both are richly deserved. Since it's been so long since I've updated, there's probably a greater than average chance I've missed stuff. Please let me know in the comments or at jdupuis at yorku dot ca.

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Friday Fun: 20 heroic librarians who save the world

Feb 08 2013 Published by under acad lib future, friday fun, librarianship

Librarians seem to be under siege these days, both from within and without.

But at our core, librarians no matter where they work just want to make the world a better place.

io9 has a wonderful older post with a list of fictional librarians who've perhaps put that motto into action a little more directly than most: 20 heroic librarians who save the world.

Here's a couple, but definitely go on over to the post and check the rest out:

Rex Libris in the Rex Libris comics

Rex Libris is the "tough-as-nails Head Librarian at Middleton Public Library," who strikes fear into recalcitrant borrowers — and also battles "loitering zombies" and alien warlords who refuse to pay their late fees. His teleportation crystals let him travel to any corner of the universe to battle evil. "With fists of steel and mind as sharp as a tack, Rex is a true guardian of knowledge, foe of the foolish, defender of the Dewey Decimal System, and the best hope for the future of civilization."

Giles in Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Rupert Giles is the school librarian at Sunnydale High, but he's also got a secret — he's a Watcher, who guides Buffy on her journey to become the savior of the world. And he sometimes rolls up his sleeves and goes out to save the world on his own. Not to mention, Giles has another secret on top of that one — he's also Ripper, a ruthless, maybe slightly psycho, former wizard who's not afraid to get his hands a bit dirty. When there are nasty things that need to be done to keep us all safe, you won't have to look further than the book stacks at the high school to find the man to do them. (Thanks to WitnessAria for reminding me of this one.)

I already know a few of these but I'll definitely be checking out a bunch more.


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Around the Web: Access Copyright Smackdown, Big data snail mail, Postdocalypse now and more

Feb 07 2013 Published by under around the web, open access

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Reading Diary: Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm

Jonathan Fetter-Vorm's Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb is a real gem of a graphic novel, yet another stunning exemplar of what is possible with the graphic novel format.

As I've often said, there are basically two kinds of science graphic novels -- those that use the format to illustrate the same content as a textbook would have on the theory that anything illustrated must be more accessible and enjoyable. And those that use the graphic novel format to its fullest, finding a new way to bring science to a mass audience. The latter, of course, if preferable. But I have to say the there is definitely a sub-genre of that preferred genre, one that uses the graphic novel to tell a science story in some sort of social, historical or scientific context. Logicomix and Feynman are two great examples of wonderful historical biography graphic novels.

And Trinity is a wonderful example of the graphic novel as social history of science.

It tells the story of the development and deployment of the first atomic bomb during World War II, from the beginnings of the Manhattan Project through to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and their aftermath. For a fairly brief book telling a huge story, it covers a lot of ground but never feels rushed. A lot of characters walk on and off stage fairly quickly too -- perhaps too quickly sometimes -- but the story stays focused. There's not a huge amount of scientific or technical detail by any means and not really anything that the average person couldn't easily grasp but what is included is well-chosen. The political context is also covered very well and Fetter-Vorm does not shy away from dealing with the moral and ethical aspects of the use of nuclear weapons in World War II. Fetter-Vorm's script is efficient and engaging with not too many words cluttering up the story but enough so that you're never left wondering what the pictures mean. And his art is clean and dynamic yet perfectly evocative, not super-hero-y at all. Both story and art find just the right mood to tell the story

Fetter-Vorm even includes a nice little bibliography at the end.

I would recommend this book to any fan of non-fiction and science/historical graphic novels. Any library, public or academic, that collects graphic novels would do well to purchase this for their community. While perhaps a little grim for younger primary school students, it would be perfect for middle school and high school. Patrons of science and engineering libraries in particular would find this a great addition to the collection.

Fetter-Vorm, Jonathan. Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb. New York: Hill and Wang, 2012. 160pp. ISBN-13: 978-0809094684

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