May 29, 2007

LJ Teaching Award

In advance of my upcoming article in Library Journal on teaching LIS as an adjunct (woo! look for it in the June 15 issue), comes this exciting announcement:

"The LJ Teaching Award, sponsored by ProQuest, recognizes excellence in educating the next generation of librarians. This annual award, now in its first year, honors the winning LIS teacher with an article in Library Journal in the Nov. 15 issue of the magazine, a $5000 prize, and a cocktail reception at ALA-Midwinter."

read more: Library Journal.

My editor asked that I help publicize this, given the topic of my article. Another kudos for ProQuest for helping to acknowledge good teaching in library & information science!

May 28, 2007

Helping Scholars find Material (rant)

John Dupuis, who writes the blog Confessions of a Science Librarian refers us to an interesting series of posts called "Finding Scientific Papers for Free."

Written by biologist Sandra Porter on her blog Discovering Biology in a Digital World, they are in three parts, covering different aspects of the problem of finding scientific articles online. See Part 1 ... Part 2 ... Part 3. The series was useful, as the post and the commenters offered interesting strategies to find full-text scientific articles online.

It was also a fascinating look into how users think about the library -- which is to say: mostly they don't -- and how they manage to find their own material. I wrote a very long post in response to Part 3 in the hopes of helping them increase their use of their institutional library facilities. I've reproduced my comments over at my Libraries For My Friends blog.

If our patrons are going to such lengths to find scholarly articles -- and virtually no one mentions the library -- doesn't that mean we're doing something wrong in our library communities? How can we better promote our resources to these scholars?

May 25, 2007

LibSite Cites

Have you seen LibSite? It's a social networking sie that showcases great library web sites. "Sites" can include content, library home pages, and blogs. I promoted the awesome Danbury Library Catalog.

Check out web sites that librarians (and non-librarians, theoretically) think are cool, such as the Seattle Public Libary, the Library of Congress blog, and, of possible interest to the cogsci readers, the William James Cybrary.

There's only one entry tagged school library; anyone want to add another?!

(see some of the cool sites they're highlighting over on the right of my blog)

May 24, 2007

Save Internet Radio

Lots of chatter on the online radio waves about dramatically increased royalty rates for webcasters, due to go into effect on July 15 (retroactive to Jan 1, 2006!)

Of course, this would mean certain closure for many Internet radio web sites. The good news is that "the Internet Radio Equality Act has recently been introduced in both the House (H.R. 2060) and Senate (S. 1353) to save the Internet radio industry. Please call your senators and your representative to ask them to co-sponsor the Internet Radio Equality Act..." (from Savenetradio)

Below is a letter that the founder of Pandora sent out recently:

Hi, it's Tim again,

I wanted to thank you again for your extraordinary support in the fight to save Internet radio and Pandora. Thanks to the overwhelming number of calls you made, letters you faxed, and emails you sent, the Internet Radio Equality Act is fast gaining momentum in the House of Representatives (74 sponsors and growing). It's nothing short of remarkable for this to happen in such a brief period of time - almost unprecedented.

On Friday, May 11th, a Senate version of the bill was introduced by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sam Brownback (R-KS) (pdf version). This is a promising development, but we need your help again. I know we're asking a lot, but the stakes couldn't be higher and the fight is not over.

Please call the offices of your Senators and ask them to co-sponsor the Internet Radio Equality Act, S. 1353. ...

Visit Savenetradio to keep up on our fight to save Internet radio. There are some powerful testimonials there from musicians who have found their audience through Internet radio.

We are deeply moved by your support. Thank you.
-Tim Westergren, (Pandora founder)

Note that these price hikes will also affect public radio broadcasting over the Internet; see what Jon Gordon from APM's Future Tense says on his Wavelength blog post NPR goes public in fight to save Internet broadcasting.

********** What can I do?? you ask ...
Send an email to your congresspeople; the folks at NPR have made this incredibly easy at Tell Them Public Matters. Enter your name & full address and they'll send a supportive email to YOUR two senators & one representative. Couldn't be easier -- unless you want to add a personal note about the public radio stations you listen to online.

May 22, 2007

More about the Accidental Mind

Emily points me to a recent Boing Boing post on free neural notecards from David Linden's
Accidental Mind blog (Linden is the author of the Accidental Mind, blogged here back in April).

If you like brain science, you'll love these images!

My favorite is Phineas, but he's not really appropriate for a family blog. (not familiar with Phineas? Wikipedia sez: "Phineas P. Gage (1823 – May 21, 1860) was a railroad construction foreman who suffered a traumatic brain injury when a tamping iron accidentally passed through his skull, damaging the frontal lobes of his brain.")

May 21, 2007

Tips of all Kinds

From Guy Kawasaki's most excellent blog:

1. The Nine Biggest Myths of the Workplace by Penelope Trunk. Trunk, author of Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success, debunks some career myths. Find out why such aphorisms as "You’ll be happier if you have a job you like", "Job hopping will hurt me" and "Do good work, and you'll do fine" are not true.

2. Ten Questions With Penelope Trunk: Career Guidance for This Century, in which Trunk answers questions like "How much money does it take to be happy?" and "What's the ideal length of a resume in a world where every resume is electronic and not viewed printed out on paper?" (it's shorter than you think)

3. Make a List and Check It Twice: A Real-World Guide for Speakers and Presenters: some great tips for people who make a living giving speeches, but the tips are also useful for those of us who give talks here-n-there. (Direct link to Compulsive Obsession with Details will Save Your Neck When Giving Presentations from the blog Escape from Cubicle Nation)

4. Questions with Anastasia Goodstein, author of Totally Wired: What Teens and Tweens Are Really Doing Online. Some good tips here for YA librarians ... plus a link to a KQED interview with Goodstein.

Read More
If you don't read Guy's blog, you should.

May 20, 2007

Public Library Marketing Toolkit

ProQuest & CSA have come out with a terrific public library marketing toolkit that could benefit ALL libraries.

It includes some great material that savvy librarians can use to publicize their offerings, and not just those from ProQuest / CSA (tho' vendor-specific material is listed too):

* How-to guide on Marketing Your Library's Online Resources (pdf)
* Customizable library patron brochure (pdf)
* Sample database descriptions that speak "patron" rather than library language (pdf)
* Getting Started — a digital "ad" that can be downloaded to the library's homepage (flash).

and, really in the marketing zone, press releases to announce new databases:
* Ancestry Library Edition (including ready-made quotes by the library director & patrons!) (word)
* Black Studies Center (word)

but wait! there's more!
* African-American Genealogy Resources Bookmark (pdf)
* A nifty Genealogy Poster (pdf)

What's great about these is that they are written in "patron" rather than mls-librarian lingo, and most of them are customizable for your library. Yay, ProQuest / CSA!

Read More
Rogers, Michael. ProQuest CSA Free Marketing Kit.
Library Journal, 4/1/2007, Vol. 132 Issue 6, p23-24.

Relationships between Language & Culture?!

Apparently it's still linguistics week here at the CogSciLibrarian corral. In catching up on my New Yorker reading, I came across a recent New Yorker article about the Brazilian hunter-gatherer tribe called the Pirahã (pronounced pee-da-HAN). John Colapinto accompanied linguist Dan Everett on a recent visit to learn more about the Pirahã's language, including its lack of words for color and numbers, as well as its lack of "recursion." (Recursion is the human ability to say not only "the librarian is reading a book," but also "the librarian who is wearing a tiara is reading a book")

According to Colapinto, Everett has been writing about the Pirahã for over 25 years, "[b]ut his work remained relatively obscure until early in 2005, when he posted on his Web site an article titled 'Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã,' which was published that fall in the journal Cultural Anthropology." In the article, Everett notes that the Pirahã don't have words for quantification (all, each, most, few), and don't do recursion. The controversy stems from Noam Chomsky's recent revision to his theory of universal grammar, which posits that "recursion is the cornerstone of all languages."

Yipes! Right into the linguistics fray.

The article is a good introduction both into the language issues in play with the Pirahã, (which Brent Berlin, a cognitive anthropologist at the University of Georgia, believes "... may provide a snapshot of language at an earlier stage of syntactic development. ... 'The plausible scenarios ... suggest that early language looks something like the kind of thing that Pirahã looks like now.' ") -- and also a diversion into Peter Gordon's 2004 Science article "Numerical Cognition Without Words," in which he describes the Pirahã's understanding of numbers (very short version: one, two, many).

Colapinto neatly summarizes some of the arguments going on in linguistics right now about Chomsky's theory of universal grammar, including that Chomsky has not studied language development among many different peoples, and that Chomsky is not much interested in the evolution of human language. Everett's article and research may provide a window into the development of our language; at a minimum, it calls into question Chomsky's theory that recursion is essential in human language.

If you're interested in either language development or the politics of linguistics, this is a good read.

To Learn More
Colapinto, John, The Interpreter; Has a remote Amazonian tribe upended our understanding of language?
The New Yorker. 4/16/07, 120+. Full-text also available from LexisNexis, Academic Search Premier, and Academic OneFile @ your library.

Everett, Dan. "Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã // Another Look at the Design Features of Human Language." (abstract; pdf)
Current Anthropology, 46:4 (2005), pp 621+.

Gordon, Peter. Numerical Cognition Without Words: Evidence from Amazonia.
Science, 06:5695 (2004) pp. 496 - 499. Full-text may be available @ your library.

LIS Problems with Recursion

An odd bit of indexing news regarding the New Yorker article on linguistics. As you can tell from my post, and certainly from the article itself, it's primarily about linguistics and language. It's also tangentially about Christianity, as Everett first went to live with the Pirahã in the mid-1970s to be a missionary with his then-wife.

I read the article through an alert I set up with Nexis®, which has provided some accompanying "smart indexing" terms.

This is what Nexis® thinks the article is about:

Um, linguistics anyone? Language?

May 19, 2007

Science & Religion @ Hampshire

Hampshire College's Science and Religion has sponsored some great lectures in the past academic year. I just learned that videos are available for two of the lectures at Google Video. Way to go, Hampshire!

Here's what you can see:

Natural and Supernatural: Historical Perspectives on Miracles and the Order of Nature
Lawrence Principe
April 12, 2007

"In the popular press and daily conversation we often hear events casually described as miracles. This abusive use of the term, however, leads us to forget that the word has a precise and highly-restricted theological meaning that was developed over centuries of scholarly investigation, particularly in the Latin Middle Ages. This lecture illustrates how precise discussions of miracles opened up crucial questions about the way the world works and the way in which human beings are able to study and understand it using the method we now call science. Indeed, several current science/religion issues are illuminated or resolved by a careful consideration of the miracles."

Lawrence Principe is Professor of chemistry & History of Science, Medicine &
Technology at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of The Aspiring Adept: Robert Boyle And his Alchemical Quest.

Evolution and Religion: Two sideshows and the main event
David Sloan Wilson
March 8, 2007

"Evolution and Religion are perennially in the news, but not for the right reasons. On the one hand we have debates about creationism and intelligent design. On the other hand, we have attacks on religion by evolutionists such as Daniel Dennett in Breaking the Spell and Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion. Both of these are sideshows compared to the main event: The serious study of religion as a natural phenomenon from an evolutionary perspective. I will review the nascent field of evolutionary religious studies and what it means for the more general study of cultural evolution, evolutionary psychology, and the quality of everyday life."

David Sloan Wilson is distinguished professor of biology with a joint appointment in anthropology at Binghamton University. He is also founder and director of EvoS, a campus-wide program that uses evolutionary theory as a common language for studying all human-related subjects in addition to the natural world. His books include Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior (with Elliott Sober), Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society, The Literary Animal: Evolution and the Nature of Narrative (co-edited with Jonathan Gotschall), and his first book for a general audience: Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives. More about Wilson from Cogscilibrarian.

See Wilson here:

May 18, 2007

My Favorite Diphthong, or, The Maple Leafs

This turned out to be Linguistics Week in the CogSciLibrarian's commute.

First up, Seth Lerer on WHYY's Radio Times (May 11, 2007; listen via RealAudio or find on iTunes). Lerer talked about his new book Inventing English: A Portable History of The Language.

Lerer read part of the first poem written in English somewhere in the 6th century. He talked about the evolution of language from that poem through Old English, Middle English, the Great Vowel Shift, Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson's dictionary, Twain, and up to & including email & rap. I felt like I was sitting in Mark Feinstein's History of Language class again!

Things I liked from his talk:
* Shakespeare invented ~6,000 words & phrases, including assassination (which comes from "hashish"!) and "be all and end all." (list from wikipedia)
* Lerer's favorite diphthong is "i," "might," "thine," which to my untrained ear, sounds like oeil in French, which he suggests is the origin of "pirate English." Ahoy Matey!
* Johnson's definition of "oats:" a food given to horses in England and humans in Scotland.
* Mark Twain first fictionalized the term "dude" and "hello" (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court), and the term became popular in the 1880s.
* He's a great speaker who's incredibly enthusiastic about his topic.

More about Professor Lerer. Read his new book, OR borrow his "Teaching Company" lectures on the History of the English Language from the library.

And then I listened to a March 2006 lecture by Steven Pinker on CBC's Big Ideas lecture series (mp3 available at amigofish). He talked about regular & irregular verbs and nouns, and hypothesized about how and where such grammatical rules are stored in the brain.

I most liked hearing about the irregular forms of verbs and nouns. For instance, the 10 most popular verbs (number of occurrences in a million words of speech) in English are all irregular, such as be, have, do, say, make, go, take, come, see, and get. There is a 788-way tie for those words that are used only once in a million words -- and Pinker shows that the first 10 alphabetically are regular & can be "pasted" by adding -ed at the end of the verb. These include abhor, abrogate, acclimatize, and adulturate.

I also liked hearing about making compound nouns plural, including that the hockey team is called the Maple Leafs rather than the Maple Leaves and a group of more than one lowlife is called lowlifes. "It happens whenever ... the meaning of the noun ... is not simply the meaning of the little noun inside it" -- compare "workman" with "still life" to see the difference here.

Read a review of Pinker's book Loading "Words and Rules : the Ingredients of Language" in the article Washington Sleeped Herefrom the November 29, 1999 New York Times.

I'm not a linguist, and I know some of this is controversial, but I enjoy thinking about words and how they work. If you do, check out the podcasts or some of the books cited here.

May 17, 2007

Funability in Danbury

The Loose Cannon Librarian has done a very cool thing: she's mashed the Danbury Library catalog with the social networking tools of Library Thing for Libraries (read more about it on the Library Thing blog).

If you look for a book & want to find "more like this" (more Irish fiction, say, like Maeve Binchy's recent Whitethorn Woods), you could, of course, click on the Library of Congress Subject Heading (LCSH) Highway bypasses -- Ireland -- Fiction. But really, how many books are there with that subject heading in the catalog? (answer: in Danbury's catalog, 3 -- all different editions of the same book; in WorldCat, the answer is 1 - they've managed to put al three editions onto one record. But I digress).

So while the LCSH works sometimes, it's not useful for Reader's Advisory, or helping patrons find more books they want to read on a given topic.

What does help is social networking tools like tagging. Which LibraryThing does nicely. Until now, though, Library Thing has been primarily for personal use -- you can see the books (mostly fiction) I’ve cataloged there, but Library Thing has some great potential beyond just the personal. And true to their name, they're expanding to ... libraries!

Check out the Danbury catalog record for Whitethorn Woods: you can see those standoffish subject headings and also some neat tags leading you to related books. If you look at "Similar Books," you'll see a few others by Maeve Binchy, plus some you might not have considered. One cool thing is that it only shows similar books that are in the Danbury catalog -- so you don't get recommendations of books you can't borrow from Danbury.

See also (heh) the record for Anchee Min's terrific Empress Orchid, with the LCSH Tzu-hsi, Empress dowager of China, 1835-1908 -- Fiction. All right, so the subject tells you what the book's about, but ... what else would you read if you liked Empress Orchid? Library Thing readers suggest some similar books available in Danbury, such as Lisa See's also terrific Snow flower and the secret fan, and Gail Tsukiyama's Night of many dreams, which a f2f friend recommended to me.

Check it out & ask for it @ your library!

Read more about it
* from the Danbury Library's perspective at Loose Cannon Librarian
* from Library Thing at Library Thing for Libraries

May 16, 2007

Critiquing Scientific Studies, for the Layperson

Great article in Newsweek about the potential pitfalls of using scientific research to make a point. Sharon Begley details some ways in which research methodology can skew study results. Study design, Begley argues, can lead to results which contradict results of a similar study which used different methodology.

For instance, a recent study funded by the government reviewed the effectiveness of abstinence-only programs on teens' rate of sexual activity and found that "kids in abstinence-only 'were no more likely to abstain from sex than their control group counterparts ... [both] had similar numbers of sexual partners and had initiated sex' at the same age."

This is very different, of course, from programs publicized by social conservatives suggesting that abstinence programs did reduce teen sexual activity. Begley shows problems with some of the studies cited by social conservatives, such as:

"Many [studies] evaluated programs where kids take a virginity pledge. But kids who choose to pledge are arguably different from kids who spurn the very idea. 'There's potentially a huge selection issue,' says Christopher Trenholm of Mathematica Policy Research, which did the abstinence study for the government. 'It could lead to an upward bias on effectiveness.' "

Begley cites several other examples of study bias leading to what she calls "bad science," and what is at best, conflicting and confusing results. It's a good start -- especially for those of us trying to teach students about scientific research. But I wish it were a bit more, well, scholarly and meaty.

* Begley, Sharon. Just Say No--To Bad Science.
Newsweek, 5/7/2007, vol. 149 Issue 19, p57.
* Trenholm, Christopher, Barbara Devaney, Ken Forston, Lisa Quay, Justin Wheeler, and Melissa Clark, Evaluation of Abstinence Education Programs Funded Under Title V, Section 510. Available online via Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., April 2007.

May 15, 2007

The (MD) Bell Curve

I'm listening to physician and writer Atul Gawande read from his book Better: A Surgeon's Note on Performance," on APM's show Word For Word (audio file).

In the book, Gawande investigates what separates good doctors and great ones, by looking at success rates for various conditions. He talks about two hospitals that treat cystic fibrosis -- one in which the success rates are about average (Cincinnati Children's Hospital, with an average CF life expectancy of just over 30) and another in which the results are way above average (the Minnesota Cystic Fibrosis Center, at Fairview-University Children's Hospital, in Minneapolis, where CF patients typically live to over 40 years old).

He suggests the difference is due to above-and-beyond diligence on the part of doctors:
"[Center director, pediatrician Warren Warwick] believed that excellence came from seeing, on a daily basis, the difference between being 99.5-per-cent successful and being 99.95-per-cent successful. Many activities are like that, of course: catching fly balls, manufacturing microchips, delivering overnight packages. Medicine's only distinction is that lives are lost in those slim margins."

Gawande adds: "Warwick's combination of focus, aggressiveness, and inventiveness is what makes him extraordinary." (both quotes from the New Yorker article cited below)

Fascinating example of extraordinary work. Kind of inspiring -- how can we apply this to our own (less life-threatening but still important) work?

Read the CF story in the New Yorker, "THE BELL CURVE; What happens when patients find out how good their doctors really are?", December 6, 2004 pp. 82+. Available in LexisNexis and Academic Search Premier and other library databases.

Gawande was also on WHYY's Radio Times on May 15, 2007.

May 13, 2007

the Future of Reference

A colleague (hi Terry!) asked me to speak on a panel in his class about the future of reference. I'm a poor prognosticator (tho' I like to say the word), but I have a few thoughts. Here's a bit of what I said in class:

Even before I talk about the future of reference, I have to comment on how I define "reference." When I think of "reference", I think of "reference SERVICE." I initially focused my thoughts only on service, but finally realized I should probably talk about other elements like search and resources. Always good to know one's own biases.

So, the four things I believe will affect the future of reference are:
- Service
- Search technologies
- the Reference Book
- Money

1. In terms of service, we need to be where the patrons are. This could mean more roving reference (even in a big library) where we go & find them and ask if they are finding what they need. This could (should) mean more technology such as IM, facebook, Skype, and text-messaging -- at least for those tech-savvy patrons. Probably we should work on getting more people to be tech-savvy, in terms of using online resources and communication technology, for those "connected but hassled" patrons.

This implies that reference librarians are still necessary -- and they DEFINITELY are. I taught a class last week in which one student said "I wish I'd known this before I graduated." Breaks my heart when they say that, because I know we can save them time AND help them be smarter about searching. Finding good material will not get easier anytime soon (despite my thoughts about #2), so we will continue to need reference librarians.

2. In terms of search, we MUST make it easier. Roy Tennant famously said "librarians like to search, everyone else likes to find." He also said "2 clicks 2 stuff" (see my blog entry). Two potential ways of making this easier for the non-tech savvy users:

2a. Federated search. This means searching more than one database / library resource at the same time. We can do this already with our EBSCO products, which is applicable if we need to search Communications & Mass Media Complete + PsycINFO at the same time. However, if we were researching the philosophy of mind, for instance, and wanted to search PsycINFO + Philosopher's Index together, we couldn't do that in my library, because we get those resouces from different vendors.

There are several companies which offer federated search products, but, imho, none is ready for prime time. Many technical, legal, and standards problems prevent aggregation of ALL databases into one search engine. And if they're not ALL going to be there, my feeling is we shouldn't do it. Here's why: if a major newspaper vendor is missing, for example, and we point students to our MegaOneSearch resource for newspapers which is all newspaper database sources EXCEPT the big one, then to do a comprehensive search patrons would have to search two sources anyway, and that defeats the purpose.

There's a philosophical question as well: does federated search "dumb" things down to such an extent that we are doing our patrons a disservice by teaching them to use a simple search for all databases rather than pointing them to the best database for their topic?

Finally, the federated search interface must be intuitive to use. I have seen products that confuse me -- and if I don't know what to do, a college freshperson, soccer mom, or the "Inexperienced Experimenter" will not, and will go back to Google.

2b. A different approach to the federated search problem is the "data silo + search + presentation" method adopted by such vendors as Ex Libris' Primo. Currently, if a patron wants to find books, articles, and archival material on his topic, he must search at least three different places, with varying interfaces, quirks, and search rules: the library's catalog (which I've taken to calling "Google for books"), a library database such as Academic Search Premier, and the library's digital archive or finding aids collection. This is so confusing for patrons that they'd rather search Google because it's "good enough."

The premise of Primo is that all data elements (catalog data, digital archives, aggregated data in a federated search product like MetaLib) can be "harvested" and stored in different "silos." Once harvested and "normalized" so that the disparate information has metadata in consistent fields, it can be searched simultaneously (see the Feb. 15, 2007 Library Journal article (Meta)search Like Google for more about this concept).

Finally, there is a dedicated public interface just for this application. The value to patrons is that the presentation layer is consistent for ALL resources within the library. AND the presentation layer is especially designed to be easy to use and highlight the metadata that we have all worked so hard to add to various records.

Two examples of beautiful, patron-oriented public interfaces are North Carolina State University's catalog (see results of a search for synesethesia -- note how smoothly it handled the typo) which is "fronted" by Endeca, and the Queens Public Library (see results of a search for visual perception), which is TLC's AquaBrowser. You can see how much easier this OPAC would be for "connected but hassled" users!

3. The reference book, one of my long-time library companions, is going by the wayside. It's heartbreaking but true. Fewer patrons come to the reference desk, fewer of them are willing to look at a book, and the majority of them are online wanting online resources. Given that, most of us must put our money in online resources. This is completely understandable, but it means that the intuitive-to-use reference book will go by the wayside and patrons will have to learn not only about their topic in an online reference work, they will also have to learn how to use the interface. There is some great reference content online, and while some interfaces are better than others, none is as intuitive as a book.

4. A huge element in the future of reference is money. Money for staff, money for cool products like federated search and Primo, and money for materials. Which sends me to my recent rant on marketing -- if we don't get people into the library, the folks who pay for our services (town hall, university presidents, school departments) will think that their constituents can use Google for everything & don't need libraries. We need to at least keep the $$ we have, or better yet, increase what we're pulling in and use it wisely.

So, in conclusion, here's the future of reference:
1. We still need reference librarians, but they should be where the patrons are, either physically or virtually.
2. We need to make search easier for patrons. Federated search & Primo (theoretically) will enable people to find stuff more quickly and easily.
3. Fewer reference books, more online reference materials. Hopefully easier to use (see #2).
4. Less money, fewer cool librarians, less cool stuff. Money properly allocated means good librarians & *useful* relevant resources for patrons.

It was a great discussion in class. Hopefully others will chime in?!

Addendum to Thoughts about Reference

My thoughts on this topic are evolving, and there are so many related blog posts about it, that I've created a separate post for my links & additional thoughts on The Future of Reference.

In no particular order:

* From the 2007 Massachusetts Library Association Conference Blog, all posts tagged with reference. Starts with a roundtable discussion entitled "Is Reference Dead?" and "Radical Reference: Community Librarianship and Free/Open Source Technology", with Jenna Freedman and Eric Goldhagen.

* Aaron's Walking Paper blog comments on the Chronicle of Higher Education article Are Reference Desks Dying Out?

* SomeLibrarian talks indirectly about the changing role of reference at his Some Librarian blog in a post about using facebook with students, and another about Librarian with Latte.

* John Ramsay, WMRLS Regional Administrator, one of my co-panelists, asked a great question: "Is 'reference' the best name for what we do?" What is a better name?

May 12, 2007

Evolution for Everyone!

Have you heard about David Sloan Wilson's new book Evolution for everyone : how Darwin's theory can change the way we think about our lives ?

I saw him speak at Hampshire back in February, and he was great. Natalie Angier reviewed the book in the April 8 issue of the New York Times, and of it, she says:

"Rather than catalog its successes, denounce its detractors or in any way present evolutionary theory as the province of expert tacticians like himself, Wilson invites readers inside and shows them how Darwinism is done, and at lesson’s end urges us to go ahead, feel free to try it at home. The result is a sprightly, absorbing and charmingly earnest book that manages a minor miracle, the near-complete emulsifying of science and the 'real world...' "

Of related interest is his 2005 article Evolution for Everyone: How to Increase Acceptance of, Interest in, and Knowledge about Evolution in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) Biology (13.5).

"This essay reports a success story, showing how both walls of resistance can be surmounted by a single college course, and even more, by a university-wide program. It is based on a campus-wide evolutionary studies program called EvoS, initiated at Binghamton University in 2002, which currently includes over 50 faculty members representing 15 departments. Enthusiasm at all levels, from freshmen students to senior administrators, makes EvoS a potential model for evolution education that can be duplicated; the basic ingredients are present at most other institutions, from small colleges to major universities."

Worthwhile both for ideas about how to start a new program on campus, but also for the science, as Wilson explains a bit about what he teaches in the EvoS program.

May 10, 2007

"Connected But Hassled"

Those awesome folks at the Pew Internet & American Life Project have a new report out called A Typology of Information and Communication Technology Users, in which they say "half of all American adults are only occasional users of modern information gadgetry, while 8% are avid participants in all that digital life has to offer."

Jon Gordon, of American Public Media's Future Tense, did a show about this on May 7 (Technology: Where do you fit in?). On the web site, he summarizes the report thusly:

"In a new survey, the Pew Internet and American Life Project finds that adult Americans are broadly divided into three groups: 31 percent are elite technology users, 20 percent are moderate users and the remainder have little or no usage of the Internet or cell phones."

What I like about this survey, and the summary press release, is the categorization of technology users. I'll list a few, but check out the press release for more details, and check out the pdf full report for even more good stuff. (quotes taken from the press release)

The top two categories are:
* "Omnivores (8%): They have the most information gadgets and services, which they use voraciously to participate in cyberspace, express themselves online, and do a range of Web 2.0 activities. Most in this group are men in their mid- to late twenties.
* "Connectors (7%): Between featured-packed cell phones and frequent online use, they connect to people and manage digital content using [information and communication technologies] ICTs – with high levels of satisfaction about how ICTs let them work with community groups and pursue hobbies."

Among others in the middle range,
* "Connected But Hassled (10%): They have invested in a lot of technology (80% have broadband at home), but they find the connectivity intrusive and information something of a burden."

At the lower end of technology users,
* "Inexperienced Experimenters (8%): They occasionally take advantage of interactivity, but if they had more experience and connectivity, they might do more with ICTs. They are late adopters of the internet. Few have high-speed connections at home.
* "Off the Network (15%): Those with neither cell phones nor internet connectivity tend to be older adults. A few of them have computers or digital cameras, but they are content with old media."

Take the Pew quiz to see whether you’re a Lackluster Veteran or Connected but Hassled. AND, think about where your library patrons fit in to these categories. Are we providing services for folks in all groups? Should we be?

Brain Science Podcast

I've just discovered a new podcast about cognitive science called the Brain Science Podcast, created by an emergency physician, Dr. Ginger Campbell.

The most recent episode is about Emotion; Campbell reviews the 2001 book Emotion : The Science of Sentiment, by British philosopher Dylan Evans.

Here are the show notes, which is a good summary of what Campbell discussed:

"This episode is a short introduction to the idea that our emotions are an essential part of our intelligence.

* We discuss the Basic Emotions based on the work of anthropologist Paul Eckman.
* We learn about culturally learned emotions such as “being a wild pig,” which is observed among the Gurumba people of New Guinea
* Paul Griffiths introduced the idea of “higher cognitive emotions”
* Emotions seem to exist on a continuum from the highly innate basic emotions to the culturally specific emotions
* The work of Joseph Ledoux and Antonio Damasio reveal that our emotions are an important element of normal intelligence
* We consider how fear actually follows two pathways in the brain
* We consider the role of the limbic system including the amygdala
* We consider the relationship between emotions and mood
* We consider how mood effects memory and decision making
o This includes Robert Zajonc’s discovery of the “mere exposure” effect
* We briefly consider the question of whether computers could ever display emotions"

Other topics have included neuroplasticity (in which Campbell covered Sharon Begley's book Train your mind, change your brain : how a new science reveals our extraordinary potential to transform ourselves and consciousness).

Highly recommended.

May 06, 2007

Design & "Remediation" in Technology Review

Just got the new issue of Technology Review, which had some interesting design articles, plus an interesting description of "remediation."

Quotes from the articles I liked:

Q&A with Bill Moggridge, industrial designer for 40 years and author of Designing Interactions, in which he interviews 42 "influential designers."
He talks about what David Liddle, Xerox PARC alumnus and user-interface pioneer, says about customers & technology:

Liddle "... explains that there are there phases of adoption for a piece of technology: enthusiast, professional, and consumer. There comes a point where an industry realizes that the enthusiast phase could be applied for work ... finally, the technology becomes less expensive and more obviously applicable to our daily lives, an then people realize, Well, there could be a consumer product."

I like the sense of progress from enthusiast / geek --> work --> people at home. We can see this when we as librarians learn about new technologies (facebook, I'm looking at you), get our tech-savvy work friends to use them, and then get our non-tech savvy non-geeky friends to use them.

John Maeda, associate director of research at the MIT Media Lab, and author of The Laws of Simplicity writes about the definition of design:

"Some languages have different words for the different ways we think about design. For instance, in Japanese there is the word sekkei, which connotes designing a mechanism, system, or technology with rationalized metrics for quality. Dezain, on the other hand, goes beyond an object's function to how it makes us feel. The former can be thought of as the kind of design taught at places like MIT; the latter as the kind of design taught at art school. ...

"Both sekkei and dezain are prerequisites for creating an object, service ,or experience that is desirable in the marketplace."

Wade Roush writes about "Reintermediation" or human-assisted search. He cites an example using Amazon's mechanical turk, in which people "complet[e] quick tasks -- such as recognizing objects in photographs -- that are difficult for computers but easy for humans."

He also writes about the "people powered" search engine ChaCha, which Stephen Abram introduced me to (see his September post and mine in November).

Plus 2 interesting pieces on Apple (one on their design process -- a speculation at best -- as well as a review of apple tv and leopard), an article on the hot new phone that's not an iPhone, the Helio Ocean, and, in the Apple design article, a sidebar interview with Don Norman talking about emotion, design, and work tools (such as the pee cee).

Finally, Technology Review is using text-to-speech (T2S) technology to create podcasts of stories on their web site. You can hear "Top Stories", "Infotech" stories, "Nanotech" stories, and more. Check it out at this (not-very-well-designed) page; scroll well below the fold to see links to the types of stories. Haven't listened to any yet, but I’ve got "Social Networking for Dogs" cued up for the ride to work tomorrow.

The May / June 2007 issue is not yet online; when it is, the magazine's table of contents & articles will likely be available; currently you can see articles from the March / April 2007 issue.

May 03, 2007


Natasha Mitchell of Australia's All in the Mind radio show / podcast hosted a great panel discussion at last month's World Conference of Science Journalists [click on "program"], held in Melbourne.

Here's the official description of Mitchell's panel:
"The Brain. It's been called the final frontier of science. Colourful fMRI scans light up our TV screens and newspapers promising to reveal the secrets of the psyche. From the search for the brain's God Spot, to the rapid rise of neuroeconomics, neuromarketing and neuroethics - makes for sexy headlines - but have journalists become blinded by the lights and allure of the brain scan? Are we telling too simplistic a story about the human self?"

Panelists included award-winning science journalists Deborah Blum (University of Wisconsin / Madison Professor of Journalism) and Jonica Newby (Producer, reporter and science journalist at Australian ABC TV's flagship science program, Catalyst), and Professor Fred Mendelsohn (Director of the Howard Florey Institute at the University of Melbourne).

It was a great overview of lots of interesting neuroscience topics, including gender differences in the brain, fMRIs, and twin studies.

What I liked most, however, were the discussions of neuroethical dilemmas. Deborah Blum mentioned a study which used fMRI technology to distinguish between the brains of those who are psychopathic and those who are not; participants were shown several words like "table", "house", "suicide", "murder", and "funeral." fMRIs of those who were psychopaths didn't distinguish between hearing the word "table" and hearing the word "murder", unlike "normal" participants. Blum then referred to Robert Hare, who reportedly can diagnose psychopaths at the age of less than ten. She asks several interesting questions, especially in light of what just happened in Virginia:

"Suppose you said, okay, you're eight, you are a potential psychopath...and what are you going to do with that information? ... [D]o you want to know that as a parent? ... [W]hat would you do – lock him away at the age of ten? I mean it raises – alter his brain chemistry in some way, figure out a way to light up those areas that don't light up at the word murder? Would you want to manipulate people like that?"

Hmmm. I don't know. Read the transcript, or listen to the show to hear more intriguing questions like that.

Lots of information about the show at the All in the Mind web site, including a transcript. The show lasted 45 minutes, and I'd have gladly listened for at least another 45!

May 02, 2007

Reuters Gets in the Search Game

Heard an interesting use of computer searching / news stories on Marketplace the other night:

They report that "... Reuters is taking its core product, providing the news, and turning it into an investing tool. The company's rolling out a software system aimed at institutional investors like mutual funds. It'll scan Reuters articles for positive or negative words about a company, give the article an overall score, zap it to the client, and within milliseconds that information can automatically trigger a trade."

The Wall Street Journal also reported on this ("Moving the Market: Reuters to Launch Trade Software; Automated Share Action Set by Tracking Direction Of Coverage in Media." by Aaron O. Patrick. Apr 30, 2007. p. C.2; abstract). Apparently it's big in London -- "[m]ore than 40% of trades on the London Stock Exchange are ordered by computers, Reuters said."

Sounds like an interesting idea, but anyone who's used news alerts would see some of the potential problems with this. What about words that are used with irony, or with a negative (or positive) qualifier? Words are not perfect -- neither are people, but people + words in a search are ideal.

By people, of course, I mean trained researchers, possibly even ... librarians.

May 01, 2007

Desirable Difficulties

I'm not teaching this semester, so what am I doing? Thinking about teaching.

Saw a great lecture last week by cognitive psychologist Robert Bjork (article from UConn Advance) of UCLA. His talk was called "How We Learn vs. How We Think We Learn" (pdf copy of a similar presentation), and it focused on some differences in learning vs. performance. Performance (on tests, in the classroom), Bjork suggests, is an unreliable measure of actual learning. He talked about learning as demonstrated over the long-term (i.e., the next day or the next week) rather than in the classroom itself.

I extrapolated his comments to how I teach at Simmons, and particularly how I teach reference. Here are some of my interpretations of what he said, and how I might / do apply them to my class.

He started by talking about "Desirable Difficulties" -- situations where the teacher makes things tough for students in which the tough things are actually designed to enhance teaching. These include:
- varying the conditions of learning
- contextual interference during instruction
- distributed study sessions (taking breaks is poor in the short term, but good for long-term memory)
- tests as learning events are more effective than presentations

"Contextual interference" means to teach mixed sets of information, rather than a segment on one topic, then a segment on a second topic, a segment on the third topic, etc. Bjork's research suggests that long-term learning happens when these topics are "interleaved" or integrated rather than taught in blocks or chunks.

My interpretation of this is teaching reference services (reference interview, instruction, etc.) with reference sources (dictionaries, encyclopedias, bibliographic sources, etc.). I currently do mix them, but more because I thought it would be BORING to learn only about sources, then only about services. Good to know that mixing them is better pedagogically too.

"Tests as learning events" -- what a fascinating idea. Bjork compared effectiveness of learning on tests to learning while preparing for presentations -- and test preparation is definitely better for long-term learning. He cited Roediger III, H.L. and Karpicke, J.D.'s article "Test-enhanced learning: Taking memory tests improves long-term retention"(pdf) (2006) Psychological Science, 17 (3), pp. 249-255. as proof. Roediger and Karpicke tested students on a short reading comprehension exercise. There were three groups of students: those who read the material in four different sessions and were tested on it, those who read the material three times and were tested once, and those who read the material once and were tested on it three times -- and they were evaluated shortly after the test / reading session and one week after the test or reading session. As you'd expect results were best for the folks who'd done more reading -- for those evaluated RIGHT AFTER the test / reading session. But longer term retention was best for those who'd read the material ONCE and been tested on it three times.

So ... testing is good for long-term retention. Sorry to everyone who's taken or who will take my reference final, but I look at this as proof that the test is good for your long-term retention of reference sources. And that's what I'm after ultimately: long-term retention of sources.

What I will do is provide more practice tests, either take-home or in class, to get students used to the test format and because more tests clearly improves long-term retention. Most of the additional tests will probably be ungraded, but there will be more. Oh yes, there will be more. :-)

Two more bits of information, one for me and one for the students:
1. Students learn better (but are arguably more frustrated) when the lecture does NOT follow the order of the same material in the text book. This is because (in my words, not Bjork's) students are forced to THINK about the material in new ways rather than just absorbing it by rote. Rote learning doesn't work long-term, it seems, while forcing people to think differently does make them assimilate the information in a way that results in longer staying-power. So ... I will continue to teach my way and have students read from a not-brilliant text book and they will make their own connections between what I say and what the text says.

2. Students learn better when they study in different locations. The common wisdom is to study in the same place, and even prepare for the exam in the room where the exam will be given. But an article (Smith, SM, Glenberg, AM, & Bjork, RA (1978). "Environmental context and human memory." Memory and Cognition 6 (4) pp342-353) suggests that varying where you study and where you take the exam results in better test results. So, students, vary where you study. And possibly ... take the exam in the OTHER classroom, not the room where we have class.

Fascinating stuff.