November 28, 2007

If You Search, Read This Book

I'm preparing for another semester of teaching Digital Information Services & Providers, or as I like to call it, "Advanced Reference." At the start of the semester, we review some favorite resources from reference like Academic Search Premier and LexisNexis, and we study new sources like Web of Science and Dialog. We also talk about free search engines like Ask, Exalead, and Yahoo!

There's a great new book that explains these and other search engines, and also covers directory sites like Yahoo!'s directory and the Open Directory. Ran Hock's book The Extreme Searcher's Internet Handbook : A Guide for the Serious Searcher. (2nd ed. CyberAge Books, 2007) clearly explains these topics and more.

Hock starts out with a chapter on "Basics for the Serious Searcher," which provides a brief chronology of the Internet, explains general Web directories and search engines, and offers sensible strategies for formulating a search. Hock talks about older content as well, describing the Wayback Machine, a treasure trove of archived Internet material. This chapter also provides 4 pages on evaluating what you find on the Web and briefly discusses copyright.

Hock's next chapter describes basic directories like Yahoo!'s directory and the Open Directory in more detail than in the first chapter, and he describes one of my favorite directories, the Librarians' Internet Index, which includes tens of thousands of Web sites carefully chosen and annotated by librarians. Chapter 3 describes more directories, broken into categories like law, education, and the US government; Hock describes a few subject-specific directories in each category.

Chapters 4 and 5 cover the basics and specifics of search engines, and both are full of interesting tidbits for Web searchers. It includes a link to Search Engine Shortcuts, a handy page that Hock maintains showing how to do specific searches in Ask,Google, and Yahoo!. These include currency conversion, airport information / delays, and UPC code lookups.

Later chapters cover newsgroups; finding images, audio, and video; as well as blogs, podcasts, and creating your own Web sites. The book concludes with a handy 9-page glossary, which defines Boolean concepts, podcasts, relevance & recall, and technical terms like Ajax, FTP, and HTML.

The topics in the book are useful, but what's best about it is Hock's clear and descriptive language. He knows this material like a librarian, but he talks about it like a normal person. Finally, Hock maintains a page with all the links mentioned in each chapter. If you can't read the book, you might want to glance through these links, focusing on the topics that most interest you. (And if you have the opportunity to see him speak at a conference, take it; he's a great and generous speaker)

Everyone is pretty good at Web searching -- but we could all use a boost from time to time. Ran Hock's book is filled with great boosting techniques and will be required for my class. I encourage you to buy it or check it out @ your library.

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November 26, 2007

How to be a Referee

no ... not a football referee, but a referee for peer-reviewed journals, and in this case, journals in the field of library & information science.

My e-buddy Phil Edwards has written a nice piece in the November 2007 issue of College & Research Libraries News offering tips on how to be a good reviewer. In Developing as a writer: Refereeing manuscripts for peer-reviewed LIS journals, Phil suggests ways to become a referee, and includes his two handy criteria for accepting requests to be a peer-reviewer:
  • I already know something about the topic of the article or the method of investigation.
  • I read the journal regularly and have a feel for what a typical article looks like in that publication.
And while the title implies that reviewing is good for writers, I think that Phil's suggestions are handy for those of us who are grading as well. For instance, one of his ideas is to be specific in your comments, and he offers a good example:
"...[A] comment such as 'The introduction is unclear' might be less helpful for authorial revisions than a comment like 'In the introduction, the author mentions the relationship between issues X and Y. Throughout the article, X appears often, while Y does not appear until the conclusion. The author should either consider reinforcing this proposed relationship throughout the narrative or focus the discussion on issue X exclusively.' "
His other suggestions are useful as well, and he lists some handy resources for further consultation on the topic.

For More Information

November 20, 2007

Politics & the Brain

Some interesting news / articles lately about the political brain. Here are some tidbits, in the order in which I heard them:
  • This week's All in the Mind covered the political brain: "As Australians stand in front of the cardboard voting booth next week what's going on in our minds? In choosing the future direction of the nation -- do we weigh up policies and promises with a rational mind, or are we emoting with our pencils? And new research has sent the left and right of the scientific community on a political bender with the idea that we're neurologically wired to support our team. All in the Mind probes your political brain." All in the Mind also provides a nice set of citations to articles by scientists featured in the show, including Drew Weston's recent book: The Political Brain: the Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.
  • This week's Science Friday also covered the political brain: "What happens in your brain when you think about politics? We'll talk with a researcher using brain imaging techniques to map out voters' innermost feelings about the current crop of candidates. The researchers used fMRI imaging to examine brain activity in 20 'likely voters' as they looked at pictures of the candidates and watched clips from speeches. But can maps of activity in the amygdala, anterior cingulate cortex, or insula really translate into action in the polling booth?"
  • The Science Friday article was influenced by a New York Times op-ed piece last week entitled This Is Your Brain on Politics in which Marco Iacoboni, Joshua Freedman, Jonas Kaplan, and others report on their fMRI work on political decision making by swing voters.
All of the studies reported here have their supporters & their critics.
For More Info

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November 19, 2007

Finding CogSci Podcasts

In case you're wondering ... here are some ways to find nifty cognitive science & other podcasts.

Here's a Google search trick I use to find podcasts of interviews with folks whom I'd like to hear: inurl:podcast + "name of person" (in quotes). The command inurl:podcast means that the word "podcast" has to be in the URL, which gives you a good chance that the link will actually lead to a podcast. This does result in some false positives, but it's a pretty reliable search.

A search for this: inurl:podcast "david sloan wilson" yields 6 results, including an interview with Wilson on the site of publisher's of his recent book.

A search for this inurl:podcast "positive psychology" brings up over 200 results, many of which are interviews with scholars working with positive psychology.

Lists of psychology & cogsci podcasts:
  • The British Psychological Society has a Research Digest Blog with some nifty posts. One feature of this blog is a section called "Elsewhere (for when you've had enough of journal articles" (heh) which lists some mainstream (frequently the Manchester Guardian) coverage of psychology & cognitive science, including podcasts.
  • The BPS also has a blog post called Psychology Podcasts: a Clickable List which is a nice list of podcasts about psychology. Christian Jarrett maintains the list and is happy to post new links to the site.
  • This Week in Science features some cognitive science / cognitive psychology; see their list of posts in cognitive science.
  • University of California San Diego faculty member Rafael Nunez has posted entire 80-minute lectures for his Introduction to Cognitive Sci class.
Regular readers of the CogSci Librarian will know that these are among my favorites:
  • Ginger Campbell at the Brain Science Podcast covers lots of interesting cognitive science topics, including consciousness, memory, body maps, and more.
  • Natasha Mitchell's All in the Mind podcast covers all kinds of topics, such as intuition, music, and vision, as well as interviews with Daniel Dennett & Steven Pinker.
  • The New York Times "Science Times" podcast often features psych / neuroscience stuff. See New York Times & scroll down to Science Times, or subscribe in iTunes.

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November 15, 2007

two interesting blog posts

Two great posts yesterday:

Dutch librarian Wouter Gerritsma posted about a Swedish usability research project comparing students' search behaviour for information with Google Scholar and Metalib on his blog ( The 156-page report is available at and covers some interesting aspects of MetaLib usability, as well as comparisons to functionality to Google Scholar. They did 4 sets of studies: 2 each for MetaLib &Google Scholar, and for each database interface, they had a group of students who had had no prior training and a group who had had a 45-minute introduction to the interface.

I don't know what their MetaLib interface looks like, so it's not clear that their results translate to other MetaLib instances, but it's very interesting to see the problems / successes Swedish students had with both interfaces.


John Dupuis lists a few interesting articles from the most recent issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication on Social Network Sites on his Confessions of a Science Librarian blog. Articles include:
Happily, all these articles are availalbe online in full-text for free. Yay, JCMC!

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Word Games for Free Rice

Interesting story on Future Tense this week about a web site called Free which asks you to define a bunch of words -- and for every time you click on a definition, the site will donate 10 grains of rice to the hungry. Jon Gordon says that "The United Nations World Food Program says the Web game FreeRice has generated enough rice to feed 50,000 hungry people around the world for one day."

It's kind of fun: you get a word and have to select the definition from 4 options. I started with "toupee" and other words include "fecundity" and "wend." So far, I've donated 110 grains of rice. I lost on defining "ruth" and "fusillade," so I got some easier words. If you have a bit of time, like word games, and want to donate rice to help end world hunger, this is for you!

For More Info:

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November 12, 2007

Next Gen Libraries & RefShare (e.g)

Been thinking about what I saw & heard at the Next Generation Library Catalogs session at UMass last week. What struck me most was David Lindahl (Director of Digital Library Initiatives at the University of Rochester) said in his prefatory remarks before talking about Rochester's eXtensible Catalog (see his PowerPoint slides).

He said he wasn't going to talk about "next generation catalogs" per se, or such innovative catalogs as Oklahoma State University's AquaBrowser catalog or the University of Washington's WorldCat Local -- both of which are very interesting -- in large part because they are not "next generation" catalogs but rather CURRENT GENERATION catalogs. Meaning, of course, that more traditional catalogs, such as Voyager and ALEPH are, well, your mother's library catalog.

David went on to talk about the next generation of library catalogs ... and then the next generation of libraries which, he argued, should be where PATRONS are rather than where we are or want them to be. This is a perennial debate in library-land, but I think he has a good point.

So ... I've been thinking about David's "next gen libraries," and then I went to training on RefWorks, the web-based citation management system, and had an ah-ha! moment. RefWorks (and its web-based citation-managing cousins) would be a place where our patrons would go ... and where we in the library could meet them.

I've showed RefWorks to many graduate and undergraduate students, and it is a big hit. RefWorks lets you export citations from most online databases, such as PsycINFO and WorldCat, so you can manage tens, hundreds, or thousands of citations for your research. But wait! There's more: it also formats your collected articles, books, conference proceedings, etc. in hundreds of citation styles, from APA, MLA, Chicago, Turabian ... you name it.

But wait! There's more! RefWorks has some interesting collaborative options. I was able to create a folder of my publications that I can share with the world. Within RefWorks' folder-sharing ability, I have some intriguing options, which might be useful for librarians and/or scholars:
  1. I can allow comments. I could share my references with you, and enable you to comment on them. We could start a conversation about a particular article or you could refute a point I make about teaching as an adjunct.
  2. I can allow RSS feeds, so you could subscribe to the feed and find out my latest publications ... or new items I added to this collection.
  3. This list can be public, if I post it on a blog, Web site,, etc. OR it could be private if I don't post the URL on the Web, so it could be used for a variety of confidential tasks.
The list I'm sharing here is mildly interesting, but there are a number of possibilities:
  1. Libraries / academic departments could post a list of the publications of their staff, faculty, graduate students, alumni, etc. See the list of publications authored by Staff and employees of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation as an example.
  2. I'm the new communications coordinator for the American Society for Information Science and Technology's Special Interest Group Information Needs, Seeking and Use (SIG USE). They'd like to create a bibliography of publications by members ... and voila! I've created one (it's not ready for prime time yet, but I'll be sure to promote it here when it is).
  3. Libraries, working groups, collaborating scholars, and anyone working together can create a shared RefWorks folder to manage any citations, articles, books, works of art, music, newspapers ... that may be relevant & useful to their work. Public or private, enabling comments or not -- there are many ways of making these collections interactive and useful and collaborative for folks.
  4. I might use this to generate my reading list for class next semester. My only problem is that I can't sort it the way I want with any one of five user-defined fields. I have lots of sorting options, but I need to see if I can expand those options further. See a few articles in my Fall 2008 Reference folder.
  5. The University of Texas at Arlington has a nifty database of Tests and Measures in a RefShare account. They list information about the test or measure (in social sciences) and then provide the URL to the catalog entry explaining where the test or measure is at UTA.
RefWorks has already enabled us to put the University of Connecticut's OpenURL resolver in our account, so UConn community members (or those at one of our campuses) can easily find the full-text of any articles in a UConn RefWorks folder.

Back to David's point about the next generation library being where the users are ... where else are our users? Facebook! Library databases (hopefully). Google /Google Scholar. Course management systems like Moodle, Blackboard, etc.

All of these applications already incorporate some interesting library tools. This is yet another great opportunity for us to think outside the library book box.

November 09, 2007

Somewhere over the Brainbow ...

Heard an interesting podcast on Science Friday about a "brainbow:" a way of coloring neurons in a living brain to see the connections between them. Astonishing!!

Here's the Science Friday blurb:
"Building a Brainbow"
"Researchers have developed a technique that takes brain mapping to a new level, allowing them to label individual neurons in the brain in different colors. The technique, dubbed 'brainbow' by the researchers involved, could help scientists gain a better understanding of brain function than previous staining techniques allow.

" 'There are few tools neuroscientists can use to tease out the wiring diagram of the nervous system; Brainbow should help us much better map out the brain and nervous system's complex tangle of neurons,' said Jeff Lichtman, one of the authors of a report on the technique published in the journal Nature. (Full disclosure: Lichtman is also the father of Science Friday digital media producer Flora Lichtman.) In this segment, Ira talks with Lichtman about the technique and its potential applications to neuroscience."

There is more coverage on this story, including the Nature article:
* Livet, Jean, Tamily A. Weissman, Hyuno Kang, Ryan W. Draft, Ju Lu, Robyn A. Bennis, Joshua R. Sanes & Jeff W. Lichtman. Transgenic strategies for combinatorial expression of fluorescent proteins in the nervous system. Nature 450, 56-62 (1 November 2007) | doi:10.1038/nature06293. (abstract only; full-text may be available @ your library).
* BBC News: Cell stains create a 'brainbow', Nov. 1, 2007.
* Science Friday: Building a Brainbow, November 2, 2007.
* Wired: Neurons or Pollock? Scientists Create Technicolor 'Brainbow', Oct. 31, 2007. -- with awesome graphics.

November 06, 2007

November 03, 2007

More Library Instruction or Better Database Interfaces?

My librarian friend Emily Alling recently posted a question on Facebook asking if you were the head of a reference department: which should / would get more priority, more instruction on how to use library resources, or better interfaces for those resources? The question sparked a lively discussion within Facebook, and I decided to ask my GSLIS class of future reference librarians to answer it as well.

In both groups, responses were mixed with strong feelings on both sides, although "better interfaces" won both times. My own bias: better interfaces. My students raised some good issues, which I'd like to highlight / comment upon. (I'm using this blog post both for the world at large and for my class -- oooh, multi-purposing!)

To start with, I think we'd all agree with Ben's comment: "Searching a database well requires skill" -- this is true for librarians and non-librarians, heavy library users, and occasional library users. (Not to mention folks who don't use the library at all, but should ... but that's for another post).

For More Instruction
Jess and Kristina argued that instruction is necessary for their individual patrons -- librarians in a given community (school, academic, public) know their patrons and their patrons' needs and are in the best position to "translate" between specific databases and the patrons' queries, and even to identify the best database for a given question. Without instruction, this theory goes, all patrons might search Academic Search Premier even in situations when PsycINFO or Medline would be more appropriate.

Tracey reminded us of the " '...if you teach a man to fish, he'll eat for life' idea- if we teach patrons how to use complicated interfaces, they will become sufficient, independent library users." Definitely we should be teaching our patrons, in as many ways as we can: at the reference desk, in the classroom, on the street, in Facebook ... We should take all opportunities to teach them!!

Better Interfaces
Amber provides a nice bridge between instruction & interfaces: "Instruction is still very important, but I think that these patrons are in more of a rush to get what they need and get out -- not sit around trying to learn how to search online." And sadly, what Kristen says is true: "Plenty of people aren't even aware that they need instruction and would never seek it out." Becky assesses users' expectations with respect to library databases:

Patrons expect library electronic resources to function at least as well as the non-library resources that they are used to using. I don't think that instruction can bridge the large gap between what patrons expect and what they actually get when they are introduced to electronic library resources.

Andrea's point hammered this home for me:
I also think about this from a 'business' perspective. Does offer classes on how to use their website to make purchases? They wouldn’t last if they did. ... "We're harder to use but we're better," may not be a great add campaign in this Google world.

For me, "better interfaces" wins. I struggle on the reference desk to explain our web site, our library catalog, and our various databases -- and I see from people's faces that the range of resources, and the quirks and peculiarities of each is overwhelming. Nicole, who self-identifies as being "a product of a Google-fied generation" confesses, "I still have to fight the temptation to do searching in this user-friendly interface when other interfaces are available that could help with more refined results." And she's committed -- as are all of my students -- to teaching non-librarians to use our resources. Imagine the public's temptation to search Google to answer their health questions, find articles for papers, and answer whatever other questions arise. It's hard for librarians to argue that our resources are better; "we're harder to use but we're better" is a very tough sell.

Questions for Further Study
Reading my students' and colleagues' responses raised a few questions for me:
  1. What are the odds achieving "better interfaces" or "more instruction"?
    This underlying question may be what led some of my colleagues to vote for "more instruction," because it seems an impossible task for us to improve database interfaces.
  2. Whose responsibility is the interface for our electronic products? Is it the libraries'? Definitely for our web sites. Probably / possibly for our online catalogs and institutional repositories and digital archives. Definitely not for commercial databases vendors like EBSCO, WilsonWeb, ProQuest, etc. And yet, aren't we all in this together? If an interface is hard to use, it won't get used. It's in the vendors' best interest to create, with us, usable interfaces in which the vast, robust, impressive content is "findable."

Note that in the real world, this isn't a choice we can realistically make. We must continue to do instruction -- by asking this question, I didn't mean to imply that instruction would go away. But I strongly feel that our library databases must be easier to use in an "unmediated" fashion, without library instruction. Then when we do teach patrons, we can show them the really cool stuff, like subject searching, age limits in PsycINFO, "era" limits in America: History & Life, etc.

I'll close with Amber's quote: "Of course, the databases would have to be marketed well to really get full use out of them."

For More Information
My blog buddy John Dupuis, who writes Confessions of a Science Librarian, pointed me to two recent "Academic Librarian" blog posts by Wayne Bivens-Tatum at which talk about the same thing:
* Reference is the Best Instruction; post originally appeared in LOEX News, Volume 28:1 (Spring 2001), 4, 8.
* Alternatives to Instruction. Oct. 10, 2007.

November 02, 2007

Sleep Now

["... Now" is a short post of cog sci topics in the news]

Last week, the New York Times had several articles on sleep. You can see the list at Bora Zivkovic's A Blog Around the Clock blog: Sleeping with the New York Times. David Corcoran of the New York Times also talked about sleep in last week's podcast (scroll down to Science Times, or subscribe in iTunes).

And on Friday, Oct. 26, WHYY's Radio Times did an hour-long show on sleep. Can't bookmark the broadcast notes, so they are here:
"10/26/2007 ... Hour 2
The mystery of sleep. We spend one-third of our lives sleeping yet we still don't know why we sleep? Fortunately sleep researchers are working day and night to gain insight into what sleep does for us. Today we'll hear the latest on what we know about sleep with AMITA SEGHAL, Professor of Neuro-science at the University of Pennsylvania, and JEFFREY ELLENBOGEN, Director of the Sleep Medicine Program at Harvard's Massachusetts General Hospital. MP3 (available for a limited time)"

Finally, back in May, WNYC's Radio Lab covered sleep: "Every creature does it - from giant hump back whales all the way down to fruit flies - and yet science still can't answer the basic questions: Why do we sleep? What is it for? We'll eavesdrop on the uneasy dreams of rats in search of answers." AND, learn how dolphins can sleep and breathe at the same time. See show notes & links to the audio.

Great listening in the car this week! Sure makes me sleepy ...

Brain Bag

What all the cognitive scientistas are carrying:

Cool Hunting: Brain Bag has a description and another photo.

Emily found this on Boing Boing.