Archive for the 'escience' category

From the Archives: Everything is miscellaneous: The power of the new digital disorder by David Weinberger

I have a whole pile of science-y book reviews on two of my older blogs, here and here. Both of those blogs have now been largely superseded by or merged into this one. So I'm going to be slowly moving the relevant reviews over here. I'll mostly be doing the posts one or two per weekend and I'll occasionally be merging two or more shorter reviews into one post here.

This one, of Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder, is from August 14, 2007. (Weinberger left a detailed comment at the original post, for those that are interested.)

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David Weinberger's Everything is Miscellaneous is one of 2007's big buzz books. You know, the book all the big pundits read and obsess over. Slightly older examples include books like Wikinomics or Everything Bad Is Good for You. People read them and mostly write glowing, fairly uncritical reviews. Like I said, Weinberger is the latest incarnation of the buzz book in the libraryish world. So, is the book as praiseworthy as the buzz would indicate or is it overrated? Well, both, actually. This is really and truly a thought provoking book, one that bursts with ideas on every page, a book I really found myself engaging and arguing with constantly, literally on every page many times. In that sense, it is a completely, wildly successful book: it got me thinking, and thinking deeply, about many of the most important issues in the profession, at times arguing every point on every page. On the other hand, there were times when it seemed a bit misguided and superficial in its coverage of the library world, almost gloatingly dismissive in a way.

So, I think I'll take a bit of a grumpy, devil's advocate point of view in this review. I am usually not shy pointing out flaws in the books I review, but this will probably be the first time I'm really giving what may seem to be a very negative review.

Before I get going, I should talk a little about what the book is actually about. Weinberger's main idea is that the new digital world has revolutionized the way that we are able to organize our stuff. In the physical world, physical stuff needs to be organized in an orderly, concrete way. Each thing in it's one, singular place. Now, however, digital stuff can be ordered in a million different ways. Each person can order their digital stuff anyway they want, and stuff can be placed in infinite different locations as needed. This paradigm shift is, according to Weinberger, a great thing because it's so much more useful to be able to find what we need if we're not limited in how we organize in in the physical world. In other words, our shelves are infinite and changeable rather than limited and static. Think del.icio.us rather than books on a bookstore shelf.

Weinberger is sort of the anti-Michael Gorman (or perhaps Gorman is the anti-Weinberger?) in that the former sees all change brought about by the "new digital disorder" as almost by definition a good thing. Whereas Gorman sees any challenge to older notions of publishing, authority and scholarship as heresy, with the heretics to be quickly burnt at the stake. Now, I'm not that fond of either extreme but I am generally much more sympathetic to Weinberger's position; the idea that we need to adjust to and take advantage of the change that is happening, to resist trying to bend it to our old-fogey conceptions and to go with the flow.

So, what are my complaints? I think I'm more or less going to take the book as it unfolds and make the internal debates I had with Weinberger external and see where that takes us. Hopefully, they're not all just a cranky old guy pining for the good old days but that we can all learn something from talking about some of the spots where I felt he could have used better explanations or substituted real comparisons for the setting up and demolishing of straw men.

The first thing that bothers me is when he compares bookstores to the Web/Amazon (starting p. 8). Bookstores are cripplingly limited because books can only be on one shelf at a time while Amazon can assign as many subjects as they need plus they have amazing data mining algorithms that drive their recommendation engines, feeding you stuff you might want to read based on what you've bought in the past and/or are looking at now. First of all, most bookstores these days have tables with selected books (based on subject, award winning, whatever) scattered all over the place, highlighting books that they think deserve (or publishers pay) to be singled out. On the other hand, who hasn't clicked on one of Amazon's subject links only to be overwhelmed by zillions of irrelevant items. It works both ways -- physical and miscellaneous are different; both have advantages and disadvantages. After all, the online booksellers only get about 20% of the total business, so people must find that there's a compelling reason to go to physical bookstores.

Starting on page 16, he begins a comparison of the Dewey decimal system libraries use to physically order their books with the subject approach Amazon and other online systems use. I find this comparison more than a bit misleading, almost to the point where I think Weinberger is setting up a straw man to be knocked down. Now, I'm not even a cataloguer and I know that Dewey is a classification system, a way to order books physically on shelves. It has abundant limitations (which Weinberger is more than happy to point out ad nauseum) but it mostly satisfies basic needs. One weakness is, of course, that it uses a hopelessly out of date subject classification system as a basis for ordering. Comparing it to the ability to tag and search in a system like Amazon or del.icio.us is, however, comparing apples to oranges. Those systems aren't really classification systems but subject analysis systems. The real comparison, to be fair, to compare apples to apples, should have been Amazon to the Library of Congress Subject Headings. While LCSH and the way it is implemented are far from perfect, I think that if you compare the use of subject headings in most OPACs to Amazon, you will definitely find that libraries don't fare as poorly as comparing Amazon to Dewey and card catalogues. And page 16 isn't the only place he get the Dewey/card catalogue out for a tussle. He goes after Dewey again starting on page 47; on 55-56 he talks as if the card catalogue is the ultimate in library systems; on 57 he refers to Dewey as a "law of physical geography;" on page 58 he again compares a classification system to subject analysis. And on page 60 he doesn't even seem to understand that even card catalogues are able to have subject catalogues. The constant apples/oranges comparison continued for a number of pages, with another outbreak on page 61-2, as he once again complains that Dewey can only represent an item in one place while digital can represent in many places; really the fact that Weinberger doesn't realize that libraries use subject headings as well as classification and that an item can have more than one subject heading, well I find that a bit embarrassing for him, especially at the length he does on about it. Really, David, we get it. Digital good, physical bad. Tagging good, Dewey bad. Amazon good, libraries & bookstores bad.

It was at this point that I thought to myself that in reality, even Amazon has a classification system like Dewey, in fact they probably have a lot of them. For example, the hard drives on their servers have file allocation tables which point to the physical location of their data files. At a higher level, their relational databases have primary keys which point to various data records. Even their warehouses have classification systems, as their databases must be able to locate items on physical shelves. Compare using a subject card catalogue to find books on WWII with being dropped in the middle of a Amazon warehouse! He sets up the card catalogue as a straw man and he just keeps knocking it down and it get tiresome that way he just keeps on taking easy shots.

Weinberger also misunderstands the way people use cookbooks (p.44). Sure, if people only used cookbooks as a way of slavishly copying recipes for making dinner, then, yeah, the web would put them out of business. But, people use cookbooks for a lot of reasons: to learn techniques, to get insight into a culture and way of life, to get a quick overview of a cuisine or a style of cooking, as a source basic information for improvising, to read for fun, to get a insight into the personality and style of a chef, to get an insight into another historical period. The richness of a good cookbook isn't limited by just recipes.

I have to admit that at this point I was tempted to abandon the book altogether, to brand it as all hype and no real substance, a hoax of a popular business book perpetrated on an unexpecting librarian audience. Fortunately, I didn't. There were more annoyances, but the book got a lot stronger as it went along, more insightful and more penetrating in it's analysis. However, I think I'll stay grumpy. (hehe.)

One of the more annoying arguments (p. 144) that I often encounter in techy sources is that the nature of learning and the evaluation of learning has changed so radically that we will no longer want to bother evaluating students on what they actually know and can do themselves, but rather will only test them on what they can do in teams or can use the web to find out. In other words, not testing without cell phones and the Internet at the ready. Now, I'm not one to say that we should only test students on memorized facts and regurgitated application of rote formulas; and I think you'd be hard-pressed to find many schools that only do that. From my experience, collaboration and group work, research and consultation are all encouraged at all levels of schooling and make up a significant part of most students' evaluation. Students have plenty of opportunity to prove they can work in teams and can find the information they need in a networked environment. But, I still think that it's important for students to actually know something themselves, without consultation, and to be able to perform important tasks themselves, without collaboration. Certainly, the level of knowledge and tasks will vary with the age/grade of the students and the course of study they are pursuing. If someone is to contribute to the social construction of knowledge they, well, need to already have something to contribute. In fact, if everyone always only relied on someone else to know something, then the pool of knowledge would dry up. The book asks some important questions: what is the nature of expertise, what is an expert, how do you become an expert, are these terms defined socially or individually, how is expert knowledge advanced, how is expert knowledge communicated? A scientist who pushes the frontiers of knowledge must actually know where they are to begin with. At some level, an engineer must be able to do engineering, not just facilitate team building exercises.

And little bits of innumeracy bug me too. On page 217 he's trying to make the point that the online arXiv has way more readers than the print Nature. ArXiv has "40,000 new papers every year read by 35,000 people" and "Nature has a circulation of 67,500 and claims 660,000 readers -- about 19 days of arxiv's readers." Comparing these two sets of numbers is a totally false comparison. What you really need to do is compare the total download figures for arXiv to the total download figures for Nature PLUS an estimate for the total paper readership. For arXiv does he think all 40K papers are read by each of the 35K readers for a potential 1.4 billion article reads? The true article readership is probably much, much smaller than that. As for the print, the most recent Nature (v744i7148) has 14 articles and letters; for a guestimate for a whole year print, multiply by 52 weeks and 660,000 readers equals a potential 480 million article reads; probably not everyone reads each article, but at least most probably at least glance at each article. For the print only. He doesn't even seem to realize that Nature, like virtually every scientific journal, has an online version with a potentially huge readership, which Weinberg in no way takes into account. It's clear to me that, at least based on the numbers he gives, what I can actually say about the comparison between the readerships for Nature and arXiv is limited but that they may not be too dissimilar. Not the point he wants to make, though. Again, the real numbers he should have dug up, but did not seem to want to use, was the total article downloads for each source.

Now, I'm not implying that print is a better format for science communication than online -- I've predicted in my My Job in 10 Years series that print will more or less disappear within the next 10 years -- but please, know what you're talking about when you explore these issues. Know the landscape, compare apples to apples.

I find it frustrating that in a book Weinberg dedicates "To the Librarians" he doesn't take a bit more time to find out what librarians actually do, how libraries work in the 2007 rather than 1950. (See p. 132 for some cheap shots) But in the end, I have to say it was worth reading. If I disagreed violently with something on virtually every page, well, at least it got me thinking; I also found many brilliant insights and much solid analysis. A good book demands a dialogue of it's readers, and this one certainly demanded that I sit up and pay attention and think deeply about my own ideas. This is an interesting, engaging, important book that explores some extremely timely information trends and ideas, one that I'm sure that I haven't done justice to in my grumpiness, one that at times I find myself willfully misunderstanding and misrepresenting (misunderestimating?). I fault myself for being unable to get past it's shortcomings in this review; I also fault myself for being unable to see the forest for the trees, for being overly annoyed at what are probably trivial straw men. Read this book for yourself.

(And apologies for what must be my longest, ramblingest, most disorganized, crankiest, least objective review. I'm sure there's an alternate aspect of the quantum multiverse where I've written a completely different review.)

Weinberger, David. Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder. New York: Times Books, 2007. 277pp.

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From the Archives: Super Crunchers: Why thinking-by-numbers is the new way to be smart by Ian Ayres

I have a whole pile of science-y book reviews on two of my older blogs, here and here. Both of those blogs have now been largely superseded by or merged into this one. So I'm going to be slowly moving the relevant reviews over here. I'll mostly be doing the posts one or two per weekend and I'll occasionally be merging two or more shorter reviews into one post here.

This one, of Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-By-Numbers is the New Way To Be Smart, is from April 12, 2008.

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You know how I'm always complaining about business-y buzz/hype books & articles? How they're 1/3 repetition, 1/3 hype and 1/3 real ideas?

Like I commented to Michael not too long ago: "I find these tendencies very true of a lot of cases where I look to the business literature to understand something important about the way our culture is changing."

The book under consideration in this review, Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-By-Numbers is the New Way To Be Smart by Ian Ayres, is a business book. It says something important about the way our culture is changing. On the other hand, it is also very profoundly a popular science book about the mathematical and statistical analysis of large datasets. Yes, indeed -- this is a popular math book about data mining. And it is a very good to boot. Thankfully, not so much plagued by the repetition and hype of many of the pure business books. I suspect it may have originally been aimed at a popular science audience as much as a business audience, accounting for a slightly different emphasis.

So, what is super crunching? (p.10)

It is statistical analysis that impacts real-world decisions. Super Crunching decisions usually bring together some combination of size, speed and scale. the sizes of the datasets are really big -- both in the number of observations and in the number of variables...And the scale of the impact is sometimes truly huge. this isn't a bunch of egghead academics cranking out provocative journal articles. Super Crunching is done by or for decision makers who are looking for a better way to do things.

In other words, data mining. To it's credit the book doesn't really talk about the hows and whys of the actual mathematical analysis; it mostly concentrates on the applications and implications of these powerful tools. The core theme of the book is how do you make decisions in the data mining (I've decided to to not bother with Ayres's cutsie term and just say data mining) world: evidence or intuition? Evidence wins every time.

Some interesting points to consider: the rise of data mining tools is in large part to the drastic decrease in storage costs the last number of years, far more than any increase in processing power. On the other hand, the use of neural network technology has also contributed to better and better techniques.

The book basically goes through a bunch of applications areas and shows how each are affected by data mining -- basically showing that the evidence provided by statistical evidence beats out human intuition every time. It's an interesting examination of the nature of expertise: what does it really mean to be a human expert when math wizards can transform large data sets into much more accurate predictions about human behaviour. What's left for us to do? Of course, the human role is to decide what data to collect, what questions to ask in the analysis and how to apply the results.

Ayres looks at recommendation systems (like Amazon), data mining applications in the entertainment industry (yes, scripts and box office data are data mined, resulting in, apparently, Will Farrell), economics and government policy and evidence-based medicine (perhaps the best chapter).

To his credit, Ayres doesn't duck the hard questions all this brings up. He deals with privacy concerns, the dangers of over-reliance on programmed creativity and other interesting areas. It's a powerful technology, and while balance is needed in some respects, understanding is a far preferable reaction to change.

Instead of a Luddite rejection of this powerful new technology, it is better to become a knowledgeable participant in the revolution. Instead of sticking your head in the sands of innumeracy, I recommend filling your head with the basic tools of Super Crunching. (p.191)

A good reaction to any new technology. And I like the way he ties it in with the general innumeracy of our times, especially the media and chattering classes. A tool can be used for many purposes. Let's all be

Passionate about the need to inculcate a basic understanding of statistics in the general public. "We have to get students to learn this stuff...We have to get over this phobia and we have to get over this view that somehow statistics is illiberal. There is this crazy view out there that statistics are right-wing"...One can crunch numbers and still have a passionate and caring soul. You can still be creative. You just have to be willing to put your creativity and your passions to the test to see if they really work. (p. 215)

I recommend this book without reservation. Any library that collects math or popular math books would find it a terrific addition to their collection. Business libraries would also find it appropriate. Collections that are looking at the way technology is changing our culture would find that Super Crunchers belongs alongside books like Wikinomics or Everything is Miscellaneous.

Ayres, Ian.Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-By-Numbers is the New Way To Be Smart. New York: Bantan, 2007. 260pp. ISBN-13: 978-0553384734

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From the Archives: Wikinomics by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams

I have a whole pile of science-y book reviews on two of my older blogs, here and here. Both of those blogs have now been largely superseded by or merged into this one. So I'm going to be slowly moving the relevant reviews over here. I'll mostly be doing the posts one or two per weekend and I'll occasionally be merging two or more shorter reviews into one post here.

This one, of Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, is from May 18, 2008.

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It seems that at least half the time I mention this book to someone interested in the way the web is changing social patterns the response is, "Oh, I tried to read it but just couldn't finish." It's an interesting response in many ways, one that tells us a lot about this book. Mostly it tells us that we're dealing with a seriously flawed book, one that has a lot of very interesting ideas in it, but that the presentation leaves a bit to be desired.

Personally, it did indeed take me a long time to read this book, at least a couple of months, reading a chapter here and there and putting it down for weeks at a time before taking it up again. It also took me a long time to get around to writing this review; I finished the book in the fall and I'm only just writing this now in May.

The topic? The affects of the sharing and collaboration promoted by web 2.0 technologies and how they will affect mainly businesses, but also other parts of society. Blogs, wikis, recommendation systems, user-generated comments, copyright, intellectual property, all the regular stuff. Interestingly, though, this was one of the first books to really tackle these issues and bring them to wide attention in the business community.

The issues? Typically of hype-oriented business strategy books, many of the claims seem wildly over-inflated and unsupported by facts or reality. The book is also incredibly repetitive, seemingly so that each paragraph, page or chapter could stand on its own. It's a strategy I see in a lot of business books: assuming that the reader has an incredibly short attention span and wants to get the main point just from reading a few pages or a chapter or two. At the same time, of course, no one's going to pay hardcover prices for a couple of chapters. So, just repeat and rephrase the main points constantly in each chapter. I find it kind of scary that there's a new expanded edition that's just gone on sale.

The book also overplays a lot of its points -- a lot of times I thought there was a bit of almost naivete involved, that the authors couldn't see the downside of some of the ideas they promoted. Globalization, deskilling, "race to the bottom," glorification of CEOs and top executives, the 100:10:1 phenomenon in online communities, a certain disdain for anything not new, hip or cool. An unawareness of the potential for tragedies of the commons in some of the areas. The idea that what are currently fringe activities are inevitably going to become dominant in the mainstream. The authors only spent very scant and almost dismissive attention to the human cost of economic paradigm shifts.

Frustrating, yes. On the other hand, there are a lot of good reasons to stick it out and read the whole book. It does make a lot of very good points about the benefits of openness and sharing for businesses and organizations of all types and sizes. There were actually many times while reading the book that I thought that if I could give one single book to every faculty member at my institution, this would be it. It so completely encompasses what is best about the web's ability to break down barriers and promote sharing and collaboration (not necessarily primary virtues in academia) that it would be interesting to see the effects of 1200+ faculty members all reading it together. This book is really a call to action for sharing and collaboration.

Read this book, the chapter on sharing and collaboration in eScience/Science 2.0 is very good. Be persistent and you'll make it all the way through. Read it, argue, engage and debate.

Tapscott, Don and Anthony D. Williams. Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. New York: Portfolio, 2006. 295pp. ISBN-10: 1591843677

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Reinventing Discovery with Michael Nielsen at York University!

If you're in the Greater Toronto Area next Tuesday, please drop by and see Michael talk. I'm thrilled that my library is co-sponsoring such a fantastic event!

Presented by:

  • Janusz A. Kozinski - Dean, Faculty of Science and Engineering
  • The Division of Natural Science
  • The Steacie Science and Engineering Library

Location: Paul A. Delaney Gallery, 320 Bethune College
Date: Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Time: 12:30 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.

Refreshments will be served courtesy of Steacie Science and Engineering Library

Prof. Nielsen will describe an evolution in how scientific discoveries are made driven by new online tools that help scientists work together in new ways. Prof. Nielsen will describe examples that enable large groups of amateurs to make discoveries, and online markets in scientific problems.

This talk will be a blend of presentation, Q&A and discussion.

Abstract: In this talk I describe a remarkable transformation now underway in how scientific discoveries are made, a transformation being driven by new online tools that help scientists work together in new ways. I will describe examples that include massively collaborative approaches to solving mathematical problems, citizen science projects that enable large groups of amateurs to make discoveries, and online markets in scientific problems. These and other projects use online tools to amplify our collective intelligence, and so extend our problem-solving ability. This promise is only part of the story, however, for today there are also cultural barriers strongly inhibiting scientists from using online tools to their full potential. I will describe these cultural barriers, and how they can be overcome.

Bio: Michael Nielsen is one of the pioneers of quantum computation. Together
with Ike Chuang of MIT, he wrote the standard text in the field, a text which is now one of the ten most highly cited physics books of all time. He is the author of more than fifty scientific papers, including invited contributions to Nature and Scientific American. His research contributions include involvement in one of the first quantum teleportation experiments, named as one of Science Magazine's Top Ten Breakthroughs of the Year for 1998. Michael was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of New Mexico, and has worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory, as the Richard Chace Tolman Prize Fellow at Caltech, as Foundation Professor of Quantum Information Science at the University of Queensland, and as a Senior Faculty Member at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. Michael left academia to write a book about open science, and the radical change that online tools are causing in the way scientific discoveries are made.

The flyer is here.

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Digital Humanities Librarian, York University Libraries

Mar 10 2011 Published by under escience, faculty liaison, job, librarianship, yorku

A terrific new opportunity at my institution. I'm not in the reporting department or on the search committee, but I can answer general questions about York and the environment. My email is jdupuis at yorku dot ca.

Position Rank: Full Time Tenure Stream - Assistant Librarian
Discipline/Field: Digital Humanities Librarian
Home Faculty: Libraries
Home Department/Area/Division: Scott Library
Affiliation/Union: YUFA
Position Start Date: August 1, 2011

Digital Humanities Librarian (Continuing Appointment)
Scott Reference Department

York University Libraries seeks a creative, motivated, innovative, and responsive librarian to provide leadership in the development of digital humanities resources at York, while serving as a member of the Scott Library Reference Department.

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 faculty, staff and students who challenge the ordinary and deliver the unexpected.

The York University Libraries are comprised of one large central library, the Scott Library, and three branch libraries. Our collections contain over 6 million items, including over 45,000 electronic journals; 300,000 e-books; 2.5 million print volumes; and significant holdings in film, music, maps, data, and archival materials. We also play a strategic role in promoting York research in an online environment by providing online journal and conference publishing services, hosting an institutional repository, and collaborating with members of the community on digitization projects. The Scott Library Reference Department offers research services, participates in the Learning Commons @ Scott, has an active information literacy program, and is responsible for collection development in the humanities, social sciences, fine arts and environmental studies.

In the twenty-first century, digital libraries are as essential to humanities scholarship as physical libraries have been in the past. Digital humanities is an evolving specialization in librarianship. The incumbent will work closely with researchers, students and other subject librarians and provide leadership in incorporating technologies into the research activities of the humanities community at York University. This librarian will work collaboratively to develop strategies and environments for disseminating library resources in support of humanities research; contribute to the processes of digital media production, practice, and analysis in the humanities; engage in scholarly communication initiatives; and liaise and collaborate with digital humanities researchers. The successful candidate will also participate in the development of the collection in an area(s) related to his or her academic background.

The successful candidate will participate in teaching, reference, collection and liaison activities in the Libraries and elsewhere on campus, and be proactive in developing new programs and services. The chosen candidate will play a role in the ongoing development of information literacy initiatives; participate in special projects, such as assessment, and the development of web-based resources; participate in collegial processes of the Reference Department; serve on committees of the Libraries and of the University; and contribute to librarianship by carrying out professional research and scholarly work. Some evening and weekend work is required.

The successful candidate will have the following qualifications:

  • An ALA-accredited MLIS degree or equivalent with up to five years post-MLIS experience;
  • A strong educational background in the humanities;
  • A solid understanding of the research process and the ways in which new technologies are affecting the production, dissemination, and reception of texts in the humanities;
  • Demonstrated ability and interest in exploring and evaluating emerging technologies in support of digital humanities;
  • Understanding of scholarly communication and publishing issues and trends;
  • Demonstrated understanding of collection development and ability to liaise with faculty;
  • Demonstrated ability to provide reference, research instruction, and consultation in the humanities and social sciences;
  • Broad knowledge of print and digital information resources relevant to the social sciences and humanities;
  • Demonstrated understanding of the concepts, goals, and methods of information literacy instruction and an ability to teach in a variety of settings and formats;
  • Willingness to undertake work on library and university committees;
  • Willingness to contribute to the literature through professional development, research, and scholarship;
  • Expertise with current web technologies;
  • Demonstrated understanding of assessment strategies;
  • Evidence of leadership ability, professional initiative, and flexibility;
  • Excellent analytical, interpersonal, and communication skills;
  • Demonstrated ability to work effectively in a collegial setting;
  • Ability to work with a large and diverse clientele;
  • Strong public service ethic and background.

This is a continuing-stream (tenure track) appointment to be filled at the Assistant Librarian level and appropriate for a librarian with up to five years post-MLIS experience. Librarians at York University have academic status and are members of the York University Faculty Association bargaining unit (http://www.yufa.org/). Salary is commensurate with qualifications. The position is available to commence in August 2011. 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 www.yorku.ca/acadjobs 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 11 May 2011. Applicants are directed to submit a covering letter outlining their relevant qualifications and experience, a current curriculum vitae, and the names and contact details of three referees. Applicants are also asked to have two of their three referees submit written letters of recommendation directly under separate cover by mail, or email/fax with a mail copy following before the application deadline. Referees should be provided with a copy of this position advertisement. Applications and letters of recommendation can be sent to:

Chair, Digital Humanities Librarian Appointment Committee
York University Libraries
310 Scott Library
4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario
M3J 1P3
Fax: (416) 736-5451
Email: yulapps@yorku.ca

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

Posting End Date: May 11, 2011

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A stealth librarianship manifesto

Stealth librarianship is a way of being.

This particular edition of the manifesto applies to academic libraries. The principles of stealth librarianship apply to all branches of the profession, each in particular ways. Other manifestos could exist for, say, public or corporate librarians.

However the core is the same: to thrive and survive in a challenging environment, we must subtly and not-so-subtly insinuate ourselves into the lives of our patrons. We must concentrate on becoming part of their world, part of their landscape.

Our two core patron communities as academic librarians are faculty and students. This manifesto concerns faculty. A later manifesto may address infiltrating student communities with stealth librarians. Or, you can write that one yourself. Go for it.

The jobs of faculty comprise research, teaching and service. We must stealthfully insinuate ourselves in those areas. We must make our laser-like core focus our patrons.

  • We must stop going to librarian conferences and instead attend conferences where our patrons will be present.
  • We must stop presenting only to our fellow librarians. That's what Twitter is for. We must make our case to our patrons on their turf, not make our case to ourselves on our own turf.
  • Where possible, we must collaborate with faculty in presentations.
  • We must stop reading the formal library literature. That's what librar* blogs are for. We must familiarize ourselves with the literature and scholarly communications ecosystems of our patron communities.
  • We must stop writing the formal library literature. That's what librar* blogs are for. We must make our case for the usefulness of what we do in the literature of our patron communities.
  • We must stop joining librarian associations. That's what Friendfeed and Facebook are for. (Go LSW!) We must instead join associations that revolve around our patron communities.
  • We must not segregate ourselves within "library divisions" in those organizations but must partake fully in those associations. As above, this includes conferences and society publications.
  • In terms of engaging faculty at conferences and in the literature, we must engage both their teaching and research roles.
  • We must stop serving on so damn many library committees and make time to sit on committees at all levels of our institutions' governance structure. It may take time and considerable effort to stealthily insinuate ourselves into all the places we belong.
  • We must invite ourselves to and actively participate in departmental meetings, faculty councils, senates and whatever other bodies make sense.
  • We must integrate ourselves as fully into the teaching mission and classroom environment of our faculty as staffing levels allow. We have much of value to teach their students and can help faculty fulfill their curricular goals.
  • We must fully engage our faculty in the social networking spaces where they live. As well as all the library people we engage, we must also follow and interact with our patrons on Twitter, Facebooks and other sites, where appropriate.
  • Add your manifesto element here.
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A couple of final points.

As with all manifestos, this one is subject to the failings of hyperbole and oversimplification. Think of it as a series of provocative statements not a realistic plan of action. For example, I don't really think we should all abandon our professional associations.

This is based on hope and promise, not despair.

Similarly, it is incomplete and flawed. Please feel free to add to it in the comments as well as suggesting modifications and deletions. Certainly the education part could be expanded.

And the student one. Let's start building that one together in the comments.

And yes, I did really start thinking about this at Science Online 2011, with some ideas here and here. I also started germinating some of these thoughts after seeing how the library sessions at Science Online 2010 worked out, see here and here, noting how the session on Reference Managers was better attended and didn't have "library" in the title. And looking further back, it's a fairly common theme for my blogging, for example here and here.

What does this all mean? I'm not sure. But it's worth thinking about.

Finally, this document is released under the CC0 license. Have at it.

Update 2011.02.23: Some futher links and reaction to this manifesto:

28 responses so far

Librarian socially disrupts Science 3.0

I'm always very happy to see a librarian blogger embedded in a science blogging network. It's very important to get the library message out beyond just the library echo chamber and to the faculty, students and researchers who are out patron community.

So I was very pleased to see Elizabeth Brown's new blog, Social Disruption, on the Science 3.0 blog network.

From her inauguaral post:

I've been able to found contacts and establish connections to quite a few people through Twitter, friendfeed, Linkedin, and Mendeley. This is/was an important resource as I'm the only person in the library with my job description and I don't have a lot of colleagues that I can share these issues with on a daily basis - for me these social tools are essential. I was also starting to see how easily research could be generated with 2.0 (and 3.0) tools. I had been doing this previously with chat and instant messaging in the library (a recent article is available at C&RL), and these tools were surprisingly easy to integrate into traditional experimental frameworks.

After some thought I realized part of the reason we're seeing some of the strange behavior is that these newer tools are socially disruptive, and this disruption causes anxiety and stress for both traditional and disruptive communicators. How do I tell my peers what I'm doing is important? How can I demonstrate its value? What if my peers think the work I'm doing is a complete waste of time? I noticed it's also hard to not be prejudiced when disruption occurs - everyone feels pressured to take a side. Part of the social side of research is convincing others that the work is worthwhile.

So that's the goal of Social Disruption - bringing policy and practice more closely aligned to help answer these questions. I know this will take more than this one blog to make it happen, and the current environment is undergoing a lot of disruption. I'm going to be looking farther afield than many of my colleagues blogging about scholarly communications and librarianship, and also looking at policy a bit more as I think this will show how disruption is becoming codified.

Some other posts:

Definately run on over and say, "Hi!"

And if you're a scitech librarian blogger (or potential blogger), think about the benefits of blogging as part of a network. There are still some science blogging networks out there that don't have a librarian presence that would certainly benefit from one.

It's all about the stealth librarianship, that's what I say.

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ScienceOnline 2011 Debrief Part 3: Some session ideas for #scio12

A few days ago I posted some thoughts on the programming of the recent ScienceOnline 2011 conference and yesterday I posted some thoughts about the more social and fun aspects of the event.

In this post I like to look forward to next year's conference and start thinking about some of the sessions I might like to organize. My very early thoughts are coalescing around undergraduate education around. I have a couple of ideas which I think might be interesting to pursue.

First of all, I'm interested in collaborations around teaching undergrads about the scholarly information landscape. On the one hand, this is about making sure students can find the information they need for their school work, both formal sources like journals and informal sources like blogs. And this brings up the problem of how do we get them to think about what formal and informal really means? Students don't just arrive at university with that knowledge built in. We might like to think they do, we might hope they do, and certainly the ones we like to hang around with at conferences already do. But, trust me, most of them don't know much about scholarly communications in their fields when they arrive on campus for the first time.

So, how do we work together to teach students to navigate the disciplinary landscape and become productive and critical consumers of and contributors to their disciplinary conversation. Not surprisingly, this seems like an opportunity to practice some stealth librarianship.

My second idea is related to the first (and perhaps really it's just one great big idea): how do we teach students about the great big wide world of open science? How do all the various players in higher education make sure that the incredible depth and complexity of what going on out there is communicated to the next generation? How do we raise the next generation of Cameron Neylons, Steve Kochs and Jean-Claude Bradleys (not to mention the next generation of Dorothea Salos or Christina Pikases)?

There's a lot to cover here: blogs, blog networks, blog aggregators, open access, open data, open notebooks, citizen science, alt-metrics and all the rest. I guess the central tenet of stealth librarianship in the ScienceOnline world is to demonstrate that libraries and librarians are researchers' most natural collaborators in advancing and promoting open science. I've done some things along these lines myself already, but it would be interesting to see what others have done. And it would be valuable to talk about what we can do together to advance the open science agenda.

These thoughts are, of course, very preliminary but I'd definitely like to hear feedback both in terms of the ideas themselves and if there's anyone out there who'd like to join me.

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ScienceOnline 2011 Debrief Part 1: ebooks, blogs and stealthy librarians

Yeah, I'm talking about you, #scio11. The conference that still has significant twitter traffic three days after it's over. I've been to conferences that don't have that kind of traffic while they're happening. In fact, that would be pretty well every other conference.

Every edition of ScienceOnline seems to have a different virtual theme for me and this one seemed to somehow circle back to the blogging focus on earlier editions of the conference. Of course, the program is so diverse and the company so stimulating, that different people will follow different conference paths and perhaps sense different themes or perhaps no theme at all.

This post will contain some fairly disconnected thoughts, mostly directly connected to the program sessions themselves. I'll have another post up soon concentrating on the non-panel parts of the conference.

  • Stealthy Librarians. In the past, the sessions that the library invasive species contingent have organized have often been a bit sparsely attended by non-librarians. Even though we've tried to orient them towards a broader audience, they've usually had the L-Word in the session title. Unfortunately, there's nothing that'll turn off a bunch of savvy online science types faster than the library stuff. They'll tend to feel that it's stuff they've already mastered -- and most of them are certainly self-sufficient in their online activities.

    But, along comes librarian superheroes Molly Keener and Kiyomi Deards and scientist superhero Steve Koch to organize a session on Data Discoverability: Institutional Support Strategies. Essentially the session was about scientists and librarians collaborating to find a way to manage and make accessible large amounts of research data. And it was really well attended, provoked very lively discussion on a lot of important issues. To make things better, I think it got a lot of people thinking that the library is a natural ally in open science.

    By far, this was the best and most successful "library" session at any ScienceOnline. Bravo!

  • eBooks & the Science Community. This was my session, which was organized by Carl Zimmer and also included Thomas Levenson and David Dobbs. Once again, this was a case of a stealthy librarian (i.e., me) getting into a session that's not really about library issues and, I hope, getting some good points in about the things we worry about. Like sustainable business models that work for both content creators and consumers, preservation, open standards and, of course, the mutualized community sharing that are the whole point of libraries when it comes to the content we license and purchase.

    I somehow seem to recall referring to the emerging app ecosystem as "The Dark Side." I may have gotten carried away. Anyways, it was a great session and I'm really glad to have been part of it. Carl Zimmer and Christina Pikas have good summaries of the main points and Christina also has a post with some very kind words of commentary.

  • ScienceSeeker. Dave Munger and Anton Zuiker gave a session introducing the successor to Scienceblogging.org, ScienceSeeker.org. It seems like a fantastic project about aggregating science blogging content. Run on over and submit and/or claim your blog now.

    It's corrects the main fault with ScienceBlogging.org in that in accepts independent blogs and not just network-affiliated ones. My only hope is that they ultimately release the data they aggregate under a CC0 license, which seemed to be a point of some discussion in the session itself. At very least, they should make the data freely and openly available to those that wish to use it for research purposes.

Of course, there were a ton more sessions that I attended and they were mostly all very good. Watch the conference site and blog as a bunch of them were steamed live and will be made available for viewing.

All in all, this conference just gets better and more successful every year. Here's to #scio12!

3 responses so far

Library People at ScienceOnline 2011 (Updated)

Yes, ScienceOnline 2011 is coming up next week already! My how time flies.

Just as I did last year and in the tradition of Bora's introductions of the various attendees for the upcoming ScienceOnline 2011 conference, I thought I'd once again list all the library people that are attending.

I'm not going to try and introduce each of the library people in any detail, I'll leave that to Bora. I'll just get a list of all of us together in one place.

Over the years, there's been a solid tradition of librarians and library people attending Science Online and this year looks to be no exception. Of course, it's only the people whose names I recognize or who I was able to figure out had a library connection so I may be missing a couple. If I've missed you, let me know and I'll add you to my list.

Here goes, from Bora's introductions and the main registration list:

(BTW, there's loads of fun to be had downloading the complete registration the list into Excel...)

As usual, I can't wait to get to the conference -- this is always the highlight of the annual conference calendar for me. My son Sam and I will be arriving fairly early on Friday afternoon this year. Hopefully, I'll get around to posting summaries and impressions here.

Update 2010.01.06: Kristi Holmes added.

Update 2010.01.13: Tyler Dzuba added.

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