Archive for the 'scio13' category

From the Archives: Confessions of a Science Librarian (and #IAmScience)

Jan 27 2012 Published by under librarianship, personal, scio12, scio13

A repost from February 9, 2006 from the old blog. it tells the story of how I became a science librarian. It's my small contribution to the #IAmScience meme on Twitter right now.

Basically it's about unconventional career paths in science. And this is mine.


Inspired by Adventures in Ethics and Science and Stranger Fruit...

So, how does a person go from being a software developer to being a science librarian?

  • From a very young age, always read a lot of books, magazines, comic books and whatever else is lying around, mostly science fiction and fantasy but a lot of other stuff too.
  • Also from a young age, related to an interest in science fiction, also read a lot and exhibit a lot of interest in science and math. Math is always the best subject at school, by far.
  • Source of much pocket money during college and university -- tutoring math (especially geometry, always loved geometry) and other subjects at former high school.
  • At middle of college career (college in Quebec where I grew up is a two year pre-university institution, equivalent to grades 12 and 13) in 1982 get a tour of a computing centre where a cousin worked and think, "hey, this is kinda cool."
  • Take Fortran course in second year. Life is changed. Even do bonus extra assignment on matrix multiplications. Using computers to solve mathematical problems is a revelation (although this thread is sorta never followed up on).
  • Apply to Computer Science at Concordia University. Pursue General Business Option and end up taking a lot of accounting, finance, marketing, etc, along with Fortran, Pascal, data structures, operating systems and all the rest. Do really well in stats and numerical analysis courses. Except for this one stats course we won't really talk about.
  • Along with tutoring, get a job as Programmer on Duty at Concordia Computer Centre. Involves sitting at desk or roving around helping students debug their programs or get the systems to work. Challenging but lots of fun. Remarkably like reference desk, but never make the connection.
  • After graduation (1986), get job at multinational insurance broker doing database development in FoxPro, later in Wang Pace and Powerbuilder. Work there for 12+ years. Best part about the job? Working mostly with the finance and accounting functions, helping people find the information they need to get their job done. Remarkably like research consultations, never make the connection. Like working with people and crunching premium and commission numbers.
  • Eventually tire of the constant retraining to new technologies, fed up of unstable mergers/acquisitions situation at company for several years, contemplate leaving job and getting a new one. However, since in the middle of a large, multi-year project, don't want to leave until that is mostly put to bed.
  • Have lots of time to think, "Do I want a new job or a new career?" Examples of librarians among friends and family. Research indicates that libraries seem to be rather computer-oriented these days. This is about 1996-97. Start to make some of those connections. Start to make plans.
  • Quit job and go to Library School full time at McGill. This is fall 1998.
  • Figure I'll end up working at a library vendor until, at the end of the first year, a student in the second year (Thanks, Larry!) recruits me to do a practicum placement at the Physical Sciences and Engineering Library. End up doing some volunteer reference work in the fall of the second year, 144 hour practicum in the winter and 3 week contract in the spring.
  • Get acquainted with serving a scitech clientele as a science librarian and think, "Hey, this is great! I wouldn't mind doing this!" (Thanks, Darlene, Marika and Liz).
  • Coincidentally, while looking for a job during the spring of second year, see a posting on notice board for a science librarian job at York University. Even though it's in Toronto and I'm in Montreal and we don't really want to move, apply anyway.
  • Get job. Start in August 2000. Rest is history.
  • Much sadness about old place of work.
  • Really like buying books on numerical analysis and scientific computing.

You wouldn't believe how often I get asked why I switched from a techie career to librarianship. Now we all know. I encourage more stories.

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Science Online 2012 feedback -- and ideas for #scio13!

Well, I survived.

Science Online 2012 took place this past weekend and it was a blast. There's already been quite a bit of discussion in blogs and on Twitter about how it went.

A very small selection of the them bits are:

But there's way more that I've missed, I'm sure.

One of the things the stellar organizing committee of Bora Zivkovic, Anton Zuiker and Karyn Traphagen are very good at is learning and evolving.

Hence, the feedback form goes out only a couple of days after the event!

So, I've listed below my answers to some of the questions on the form along with some other musings about the #scio12 experience.

  • The decision to allow only two moderators per session worked out very well. It definitely reduced the amount of sageing on the stage and promoted a lot more discussion and dialogue.
  • The session I co-moderated with my York colleague Tanya Noel went very well. It was on Undergraduate Education: Collaborating to Create the Next Generation of Open Scientists. We had a small but engaged crowd who were really interested in how to turn all the cool stuff we talk about at Science Online into action in the undergrad classroom.
  • It's hard to pick one session as the most memorable, but I'll go with What to do when you're the go-to online outreach person at your institution, moderated by Miriam Goldstein and Jai Ranganathan. I'm choosing it mostly because it's what I find myself more and more involved in -- outreach for my institution, both to students but increasingly to internal stakeholders. This session had a lot of nuts and bolts talk about using online tools to raise your profile and your institutions. And there were a lot of people at the session in the same situation as I am, where they are some sort of accidental expert.
  • There was one session I very consciously avoided, Making Book on e-Books, by Tabitha Powledge & Carl Zimmer. I avoided it mostly because I don't want to become some sort of professional ebook wet blanket guy, the role I sort of performed last year and at Science Online NYC this past September. This year, the panel was aimed at practical strategies, so I figured that should be the focus. Ironically, when I spoke to Carl about the panel later on he said he'd actually ended up being the voice of caution, raising the kinds of concerns that I've raised in the past. Life is strange sometimes.
  • How could the conference get better? One idea that's traveled around Twitter is to have a hackathon, probably at the end of the conference. I think that would be a great idea.

    Another thing that I really think is needed is to have some "pure unconference" slots in the programming, sessions that are proposed and organized at the conference itself. Perhaps a slot or two on Friday could be pitched & voted on Thursday. With the conference program wiki starting to take shape so far in advance every year, there's a danger that we'll just rehash the same few topics every year. This year an obvious topic that should have obsessed us on the program but somehow didn't was the whole Research Works Act/SOPA/PIPA controversy. The conference started the day after Wikipedia went black for day, after all. We should have had a chance to pitch a session on The Politics of Open Access or something like that. This also allows first-timers a chance to get in on the fun.

  • What sessions, topics or activities would you like to propose for next year's conference? Yes, the #scio13 program wiki is already up.

    I'm not sure if I have concrete ideas yet, but there are a few things that continue to interest me and that I might want to develop a bit more fully in collaboration with the Science Online community.

    • Institutional & personal social media outreach are topics that are certainly obsessing me -- how to get more faculty and others blogging, on Twitter and engaged with telling their stories to the world. The Goldstein/Ranganathan session above could certainly be expanded in different directions and I think that would be a lot of fun.
    • How to translate all the cool stuff we talk about at scio12, 13, etc, into the undergrad classroom is another topic that obsesses me. Obviously Tanya and I already touched on this but I think there's a lot more room to develop these ideas.
    • The new media landscape as it affects core values of sharing, openness and preservation. This is somewhat about ebooks but is also about data, lab info, journals and other stuff. It's hard to know now what will make sense for a session in 2013 but I can certainly see wanting to do something on ebooks & the cultural commons again. This is the session that I didn't want Carl Zimmer's ebook session to become because I kept butting in as the ebook bad cop. This may be my uber-obsession and possibly the most worthwhile to develop into a session.
    • The politics of openness is another idea, exploring where politics, publishing and money crash together. It's not pretty, but it needs to be explored. It makes me wish that there were more commercial and society publishers that sent people to Science Online.

    As for what maybe we could talk a little bit less about? Maybe we can move beyond having so many sessions about blogging. And the blogger vs. journalist strain of that is getting particularly old.

  • Random thoughts? I think it's really important to get people from the broader higher education world to Science Online. It would be great if reporters from places like The Chronicle of Higher Education or Inside Higher Ed added a conference like Science Online to their beat. Science Online is an amazing model for conferences in higher ed and beyond and I think the broader community could learn a lot from what we're doing. I think it would be valuable and useful for both sides Digital humanities THATCamps get a lot of press, but not Science Online? I think it's time.

Once again, a huge thanks to Bora Zivkovic, Anton Zuiker, Karyn Traphagen and all the other volunteers for yet another stellar conference.

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