Archive for the 'information literacy' category

Issues in Science & Technology Librarianship, Winter 2011

As usual, a bunch of great new articles from the most recent ISTL!

No responses yet

A stealthy library scout, armed with a lead pipe

The authors over at In the Library with the Lead Pipe have posted about my recent manifesto on Stealth Librarianship.

There's some pretty healthy debate, agreement, disagreement, qualification, additions and subtractions going on there, so please do check it out: Lead Pipe Debates the Stealth Librarianship Manifesto.

Some excerpts:

What Dupuis fails to mention here is that many academic librarians MUST publish in traditional, peer-reviewed library publications while striving to attain tenure. I am not personally in a tenure-track position, so I have the liberty of not fretting over where I publish. What I have found is that the online discourse via blogs is plentiful and satisfying for me to keep up with what's happening in libraries. Blogging here at In the Library with the Lead Pipe offers me the opportunity to write and think critically in an open peer-review and open publishing format; it is a rich experience that creates and advocates for open discourse among professionals. I'm not so sure what "stealth" has to do when it comes to creating open discourse. Dupuis is contradicting himself.


I don't think "A stealth librarianship manifesto" is about stealth at all. At least, not at its core.

What Dupuis's post really is about is much simpler and more nefarious: it's about language.


I think I may be anti-manifesto in general. Or rather, perpetually and knee-jerkingly defender of whatever is under attack. I want to make it clear that I did read where Dupuis states himself that the manifesto is "a series of provocative statements not a realistic plan of action" and I appreciate the overall sentiment. But since this is a reaction piece, I have to admit, there is much I disagree with.


To this end, I would add the following to the manifesto:

  • We must be better at articulating our own value, especially in non-library settings (the faculty meeting, the town hall, the Capitol)
  • We must inspire others to fight for us by aligning ourselves with our users, not each other


As far as I'm concerned, any effort to go stealth is wasted. The problem isn't with our public relations. The problem is with our product.


Public library workers of the world, unite and write! You have nothing to lose but your stereotypes.

Lots of great stuff -- go on over and read the whole thing!

Here's a list of all the posts that mention my manifesto:

No responses yet

Going native with stealthy librarian ninjas

McMaster University colleague Andrew Colgoni (Twitter) has taken my Stealth Librarian Manifesto and tamed it a little bit and come up with his own version, which is here.

I like what Andrew has to say in a post titled, I prefer Ninja Librarianship, myself:

[T]here's much that can be learned from discovering where your faculty are reading/going and finding them there. This can be as simple as finding on-campus conferences that draw a broad faculty audience, and visit that. Here at McMaster, the Centre for Leadership in Learning annually hosts a teaching and learning conference, which draws internal faculty interested in pedagogical research, as well as faculty from other institutions. Typically, librarians have a showing at these kinds of events, which (I hope) reminds faculty that we are invested in student learning as well. I will often attend the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) conference, for similar reasons. At some point, I will definitely attend a science communication oriented conference, too.

...I suspect that finding a (personal) balance between library and faculty 'worlds' is probably best. One can adjust depending on how long you've spent in a career, and on which aspects are more rewarding and challenging.

I'll let you head over to Andrew's blog to discover what's he's done to my manifesto. And I'll note here again that I've released the manifesto under a CC0 license so Andrew and anyone else is perfectly free to take a crack at coming up with their own version. Take up the challenge yourself!

Katie Fraser (Twitter) has also put her thoughts down on bloggy paper on her blog at

I'll let her speak for herself:

The stealth librarian's manifesto had me nodding most of the way through. We should become part of our users' landscape. We should be integrated into research and teaching and we should be collaborative. With all these I agree. However, I baulked slightly at the separation from the information profession the manifesto encouraged in parts: "We must stop going to librarian conferences" and "We must stop joining librarian associations"? Yikes!

On reflection I think this reaction is partly about my background. As an ex-academic (at the PhD student level) and relatively new librarian (I graduated from my librarianship course just over a year ago) I'm very conscious of what I've learnt from the knowledge and expertise of other librarians. I'm wary of the danger of 'going native' - a concept from anthropological ethnographic research, where those studying a culture can come to identify with it so strongly that they become estranged from their own culture. I still think that there's a lot I have to learn from other information professionals, and I don't want to lose sight of the new ways of seeing the world I've learnt as a librarian.

All of which is very relevant. I have to admit that the way librarians feel about the various communities they partake in during different career stages wasn't really something that I considered during the fevered writing of the manifesto. It makes a lot of sense for librarians to be more embedded in librarian networks earlier in their career and then to branch out as they become more familiar with library culture and feel confident enough to infiltrate another culture.

And so, my ideas and opinions evolve and change. Much like librarianship.

What do you think?

One response 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.

3 responses so far

#ArsenicLife #Fail: A teachable moment

For those that haven't heard about the NASA/arsenic bacteria story that's been exploding all over the science blogosphere over the last couple of weeks, I like the summary over at Jonathan Eisen's Tree of Life blog:

  1. NASA announced a major press conference
  2. at the conference they discussed a new Science paper claiming to show the discovery of a microbe that could replace much/some of its phosphate with arsenic
  3. initial press coverage of the paper was very positive and discussed the work as having profound implications for understanding of life in the universe - though some scientists in some of the stories expressed scepticism of the findings
  4. subsequently many science bloggers further critiqued the paper and/or the press coverage
  5. NASA and the scientists have now refused to discuss the criticisms of their work and press interactions
  6. News stories have now come out summarizing the blogger criticisms and also discussing the unwillingness of NASA / the authors to discuss their work

So, in the middle of all that I really appreciated Bonnie Swoger's recent post, Using the 'arsenic bacteria' story as a teaching moment for undergraduates. It really warmed my cold, dark science librarian's heart.

Precisely because it is so perfectly science-librarianish. It combines an interest and fascination with science and the scientific method with the drive to carry out one of the core missions of the academic librarian. That would be what we call Information Literacy instruction. In other words, helping faculty teach their students about the process of scholarly communication in the sciences.

From the ACRL Information Literacy Standards for Science and Engineering/Technology:

Standard Three

The information literate student critically evaluates the procured information and its sources, and as a result, decides whether or not to modify the initial query and/or seek additional sources and whether to develop a new research process.

Standard Five

The information literate student understands that information literacy is an ongoing process and an important component of lifelong learning and recognizes the need to keep current regarding new developments in his or her field.

From Bonnie's post:

First, you have scientists on record saying that basically, the peer review system didn't work as well as we'd like. These scientists are saying that the scientific methods used were not as rigorous as they should have been. In addition, many folks are arguing that what the scientists actually discovered isn't nearly as important as the hype surrounding it makes it seem.


Second, you have the controversy about where scientific debate should take place. Some scientists see little value in the scientific blogosphere. Many others (including myself) view it as a vital part of the communication between scientists and the general public. In addition, blogger's comments have led to the retraction of at least one article in a highly respected journal (that I know of).

I agree completely with Bonnie that this type of media event is the perfect opportunity to reach students about both the idealized conception of scholarly communications as well as the more sausage-making aspects of a very human process.

In fact, on December 6th, just a few days after the bacteria hit the fan, I was at a workshop session for a fourth year Science & Technology Studies seminar course here at York. I was there to help the students think about their major projects in the context of the sources they will need and just the practicality of various ideas in the time frame they were looking at.

And wouldn't you know it. One of the students wanted to do a media analysis of a scientific controversy. Bingo. I don't know if he'll end up doing the arsenic life story for his project, but it was a good example for me to talk about finding media reporting (new and old media) and the context that blogs and the web in general brings to that sort of issue.

Which led me to #ArsenicLife #Fail and Bonnie's post. Picking up a bit where she left off, I started to think in a bit more detail about how I could use the issue as kind of a case study in scientific communications and the media in the 21st century.

I thought about from the point of view of progression of media documents, from the original reporting to the various reactions. I also saw the case more or less mirroring Eisen's breakdown of the story I quoted above. I wanted my selection of documents to be concise and manageable yet give a good sense of the scale of the controversy and the main themes.

This is what I've come up with. Please, feel free to suggest documents and themes that I've missed that'll add to the picture, especially if you think there's a document that better illustrates one of the themes than the one I've chosen. Do keep in mind that I want to have something that will be manageable to talk about and discuss with a class in, say, 30-45 minutes.

Not that I'm ever going to get to do such a class or make such a presentation -- but it's fun to think about.

Here goes:

It'll be very interesting to see where this goes over even the next few days as the blogosphere digests the authors' latest response and the fact that they've decided to engage at all with non-traditional media.

16 responses so far

Exploring Open Science with Computer Science undergrads

York University Computer Science & Engineering professor Anestis Toptsis was kind enough recently to invite me to speak to his CSE 3000 Professional Practice in Computing class.

He gave me two lecture sessions this term, one to talk about library-ish stuff. In other words, what third year students need to know about finding conference and journal articles (and other stuff too) for their assignments and projects. You can find my notes here, in the lecture 1 section.

In the second session, which I gave yesterday, he basically let me talk about anything that interested me. So, of course, I talked about Open Science. Here are the slides I used, heavily based on the talk I gave at Brock for Open Access Week a little while ago.

I tried to emphasize demoing the projects as much as possible rather than just talking about them. I also emphasized the Polymath-type projects more than in the previous talk -- a strategy suggested by Michael Nielsen in an email exchange.

How was the reaction? A little stunned, I think, perhaps because I covered a lot of ground in a short period of time, from the state of scholarly publishing to blogging networks. But overall, I did seem to have their attention so that's a good thing.

I'm giving this talk again to first year Computer Science students in January so I have another kick at the can to get it right. I think I'll pare it down quite a bit and try and talk in greater detail about fewer concepts as well as integrating my overview with the detailed case studies a bit better. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

And once again, thanks to Anestis for giving me this great opportunity.

No responses yet

A techy librarian and an instruction librarian walk into a bar...

Ok, not a bar, more like an information literacy class.

I thought I'd bring to everyone's attention a presentation by two of my York University Libraries colleaques, web librarian William Denton and instruction librarian Adam Taves.

It was at Access in Winnipeg a week or so ago:

After Launching Search and Discovery, Who Is Mission Control?

Reference librarians are whiny and demanding.

Systems librarians are arrogant and rude.

Users are clueless and uninformed.

A new discovery layer means that they need to collaborate to build it and then -- the next step -- integrate it into teaching and learning. How should we (reference librarians, systems people, and users) work together to better exploit the possibilities of open source systems so we can focus on discovery and understanding instead of the mechanics of searching?

Bill and Adam basically wrote up their presentation as a play featuring "themselves" and did a dramatic reading of said play in front of the conference audience.

I've read the script but haven't had a chance to get into the audio or video yet.

It's both informative and amusing and best of all, amusingly informative. It definitely dramatizes the techy/instruction divide within the librarian community as well as the the techy vs. "humanist" divide within the culture as a whole.

There's lots of food for thought and a bunch of great laughs too.

An semi-random excerpt from the script:

[ACT 3: Information literacy]

Adam: Well, yes and no. I still need to be able to use sophisticated search techniques. If I wanted Google, I'd just use Google. But getting back to your average undergrad. They need to understand things like who wrote the book - what makes that person qualified to speak on the topic. Who published the book - is it --

Bill: Yeah, but that's really some bullshit, isn't it? I mean, come on. These loftier IL goals, isn't that all just basically stuff from a grade ten media studies course, with a bit of Neil Postman thrown in?

Adam: They had media studies back when you were in grade 10? I didn't want to make things too confusing for you. Getting back to "disciplinary discourse" - how do people in a particular subject area talk to one another?

Bill: I guess --
[Bill continues trying to interrupt]

Adam: How is publishing in high energy physics different than, say, publishing in ancient Greek history? How do psychologists communicate their research to the academic community? Or, and we hear this one all the time, why can't we just digitize all the damn books in the library and be done it with?

Bill: Well, that's because of copyright and intellectual property issues and --

Adam: Exactly. IL Standard 5, Performance Indicator 1, Section d. Wouldn't it be interesting if, when we linked to full-text, there was some little clue as to the conditions of access. Like - "No copyright", or "licensed access secured". Then the catalogue is directly supporting an IL competency. Or another issue, how do you learn from your mistakes? A particular approach is not working well, but may tell you something about how to improve it and how to look for information about a certain --

Bill: Well, I do that all the time. It's basic to systems development and programming when you're debugg--

No responses yet

Scott Rosenberg's criteria for evaluating web pages

From this day forward, Scott Rosenberg is an honorary librarian.

One of the things that librarians talk about a lot is how to evaluate a random web page -- what signs and signals to look for that will give the unsuspecting student a clue as to whether or not they might want to use a particular web page in an assignment.

We talk a lot about the various W's -- who, what, why, when and all the rest. Who created the page, what does it say, does their appear to be any bias, is it current. There has been tons of literature on the subject and a very large number of online tutorials.

Scott Rosenberg's latest blog post, In the context of web context: How to check out any Web page, is a great addition to the genre. It's more geared towards journalistic uses of a page rather than scholarly or educational and as such I might quibble a bit with some of the details or emphasize some different criteria in my own sessions, but in general it's very good.

He really concentrates on some nitty-gritty stuff that can be very handy to know. While many of his suggestions are standard in the librarian web evaluation toolbox, there are a few that I've always known I could do but had rarely thought of in terms of teaching to students. An example of this is his suggestion to check a domain's entry in the Whois database to see who owns it.

Without further ado, here's Rosenberg's suggestions, with more details at the original post.

  • What's the top-level domain?
  • Look the domain name up with whois
  • How old or new is the registration?
  • Look up the site in the Internet Archive
  • Look at the source code
  • Check out the ads
  • Does the site tell you who runs it
  • Is there a feedback option?
  • What shape are the comments in?
  • Is the content original and unique?
  • Does the article make reference to many specific sources or just a few?
  • Links in are as important a clue as links out
  • Google the URL. Google the domain. Google the company name. Poke around if you have any doubts or questions. Then, of course, remember that every single question we've been applying here can be asked about every page Google points you to, as well.

One response so far

How come no LibrarianTopia blogging community?

The last little while has seen an amazing proliferation of science blogging communities. Scientopia, Guardian Science Blogs and PLoS Blogs are only the three most recent that I know of.

I think it's great -- the more the merrier I say. Of course, as networks take up more and more space in the science blogging ecosystem it seems to me that independent bloggers might feel isolated or under pressure or neglected some how. I don't think that will be a huge problem as independents will continue to thrive in niches large and small and will continue to draw audiences to what they have to say. Ultimately, many of them will have opportunities to join networks and they will continue to choose what's best for them.

So, yes, the ecosystem for science blogging is shifting and evolving.

What I also find interesting is that this clumping into networks doesn't seem to be happening the same way in other domains. Maybe I'm just ignorant, but is there a thriving ecosystem of accountant blogging networks? MBA? Architects? I don't think so.

Or more to the point: Why no proliferation of librarian blogging networks?

Sure, there's Library Journal's bloggers, but beyond that not much. Oh sure, there are a few group blogs too, like Library Garden or In the Library with the Lead Pipe.

But no shift in the ecosystem. There are certainly a huge number of independant blogs that could potentially be poached and organized and gathered. Sure, there's not the mainstream interest in library and information science issues that there is in science, which is part of what's propelling the shifts in that ecosystem. But there is some and certainly there will be a lot of interest in such a project within the library community.

I find it curious that we haven't seen those same ecosystem shifts.

Why haven't the professional societies jumped in and started recruiting blogging stables? Why haven't key vendors sponsored communities? Why haven't we self-organized into our own collectives?

I certainly don't have any answers. I'm not even certain that the questions themselves are that interesting to begin with. Maybe the answer is just, "The library blogosphere is fine like it is."

What about all of you out there...

  • Is this a good idea?
  • What would the advantages be to having this soft of community?
  • How about disadvantages?
  • Would it make it easier for, say, academic librarians to reach faculty and students if we had a blogging community that had a certain critical mass?
  • How about other part of the librarian blogging community?

2 responses so far

Pepsigate: Yes, I'm staying

For now, at least.

My natural inclinations about this whole mess are probably closest in nature to either Chad Orzel's or Jason Rosenhouse's, so reading them will probably give you a pretty close idea of where I stand. Bora, not surprisingly, has collected a lot of the reaction.

I also really like what Christie Wilcox has to say:

Let me make it clear, though - I don't blame anyone for leaving. I don't hold it against them. While I may not have had the same visceral reaction they did, I also haven't been here that long. I haven't dealt with this kind of mismanagement and gotten fed up about it over and over again. I can easily see how, for many that left, this was the last straw. For me, though, this was the first time Seed did something wrong.

I also stayed because I decided it was the right thing to do. When I saw my friends jumping ship, the thought of leaving crossed my mind. That thought, however, was fleeting, and I decided instead that I needed to stay.

I originally wanted to blog on ScienceBlogs because it is a community and a media outlet that I believe in. This hasn't changed. I still think that ScienceBlogs is an important member of the scientific and journalistic communities, and I feel that it is important. Now that the battle is over and the smoke has cleared, it's time to mourn the losses suffered and rebuild. I'm still young, naive and optimistic enough to think that Seed can and will do better in the future, and that it's a future I want to be a part of.

I hope that you all continue to read the Sciblings and ex-Sciblings that you know and love, wherever they end up. As for me, I'm going to be here for a little while longer, and I hope that you'll stick around for it.

I truly believe that ScienceBlogs management has made some serious missteps in this whole fracas, ones that have seriously damaged the community of readers and bloggers. Credibility and community takes a long time to build and even longer to restore. However, I think restoring that credibility and rebuilding that community are projects worth undertaking.


More recent revelations about other advertising/editorial issues also leave a bad taste in my mouth. You can read about that issue here and here.

So I'm still torn. I enjoy being part of this community and I truly believe it's worth working to save. I appreciate the opportunity to reach a very different audience than I did at my old location, a chance to preach to the unconverted. I value being able to reach science people with the library message. I've been blogging long enough to have no illusions about how "famous" it has made me. But the people that I do reach here on ScienceBlogs are truly the right people for me to reach.

I would be very unhappy to give that up. And so, here I remain.

I still think this is very much a teachable moment -- a theme I may come back to at a later date. Those of us that deal with students in our non-blogging lives I think could almost use this as a case study in thinking about what credibility really means in the online world -- how to build it, how to lose it, how to measure it and how to teach about it.

(As an aside, my natural inclination was to just keep blogging without saying anything. To stay without a statement. I thought about it long and hard and decided since I did make my initial post I should probably follow up.)

3 responses so far

« Newer posts Older posts »