Data, Data, Data – ScienceOnline2010

The other major theme to emerge from the sessions I attended at ScienceOnline2010 was data.  All kinds of data.

Data storage - old and new
Data storage - old and new. Courtesy of Flickr user lan-S

Data about articles and journals.  Data about oceans and fish and climate.  Data about scientists, their DNA, their babies (and their babies DNA too, I suppose).

20 years ago, getting your hands on a data set meant knowing someone who knew someone who might be able to send you a disc.

These days, more and more data sets are being shared on the open web.  Sometimes they are easy to find and use, and sometimes not so much.  Sometimes the data require a bit of skill with Excel, and sometimes the data require multiple servers and extensive programming skills.

But it’s out there.

I attended a very interesting session led by John Hogenesch about cloud computing. Some of this was way over my head – I’m not as familiar with bioinformatics as I’d like to be one day, and I only have minimal knowledge of how geneticists are actually using this information.  None-the-less, it was informative to learn about the various trends in cloud computing.  Some of them I am already very familiar with – like wiki’s, Gmail, Google Docs.  I learned more about some services that I only know a bit about.  For example, Google Knol is being used by PLoS to write and publish their “Currents Influenza” online.  Since the authoring, editing and publishing is done online, the journal can quickly get items published and available.  I learned about some services that allow for remote storage and query of information, and how these services can be less expensive (and easier to run) than hosting your own servers.

Jacqueline Floyd and Chris Rowan presented a session on “Earth Science, Web 2.0+, and Geospatial Applications”.  Since my background is in geology, I was particularly intrigued by some of the resources discussed here.  The discussion at the end of the talk centered around some of the difficulties of finding spatial information (some of which I have discussed before).  For example, the USGS provides a wide range of spatial data – geophysical data, hydrological data, geologic data.  Some of this is easier to find (and use) than others.  For example, recent earthquake data is available is an easy to use Google Earth format, but data older than one month requires more complicated searching  (including detailed latitude and longitude coordinates) and the search output requires manipulation to create a visualization.  It could be easier.

One of the last sessions I attended at the conference was a presentation by PLoS managing editor Peter Binfield about article level metrics.  Peter discussed some of the things that the PLoS journals are doing to attempt to measure the impact of individual articles, not the entire journal.  The new metrics were announced in a blog post last summer, and you can see the metrics at work on any article in any of the PLoS journals.  They are using open data and API’s from lots of sources: social bookmarking (like CiteULike and Connotea), citation information (from Google Scholar and Scopus), page views and PDF downloads and lots more.  I think that this is an exciting new way to shed more light on what is going on with individual articles, but there are some challenges ahead.  How will tenure committees analyze this stuff? (Will they bother?)  What does it mean if your article was only downloaded 300 times but your colleague (in a larger discipline like genetics) had an article downloaded 3000 times?  And all of this data they are collecting can lead to lots of analysis.  Librarians have traditionally used citation analysis as a way of understanding the literature of a community, and hopefully these new metrics will give them more tools to use.

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Why do I Twitter?

Everyone is talking about Twitter right now.  I thought I would talk about why I think using Twitter is useful to me as an undergraduate science librarian.

First, I can connect with colleagues.  While I have some amazing colleagues at my library, there are no other science librarians.  Using twitter I can engage in conversation with science librarians at far flung institutions to give and receive advice, assistance and support.

Second, it’s a great way to keep up with practicing scientists.  Even if the faculty I work with aren’t on twitter, I can get a good sense of what professors and researchers are doing.

Third, it is great way to find out about recent news from folks who are much more connected than I am.  I get pointed to great links and hear assessments of recent developments in the information world by people smarter than I am.  Folks provide commentary on the Google Book settlement, or about the now-defunct changes to OCLC policies.

And of course, it’s fun!  Sometimes you just want to tell the world what you had for breakfast.

Annual Reporting and the Importance of Librarian as Communicator

It’s annual report season at my institution, which forces me to think about what I’ve actually accomplished this year. It provides a great opportunity for me to re-examine the wonderful things that I’ve learned at the various conferences and workshops I have attended this year.

One of the most common themes I’ve encountered this year is the idea of the importance of the librarian as communicator:

  • Communicating with students about appropriate resources
  • Communicating with faculty about changing library policies and new resources
  • Communicating with administrations and governments about the role of the library at your institution
  • Facilitating communication with the public about science and scholarship

What strategies do we employ (or should we employ) to help us meet our various communication needs?

Traditional tools such as newsletters and posters aren’t as sexy as web 2.0 applications, but they remove the barrier to entry and reach a population that isn’t always wired.

Social media can help connect libraries to their users, but time and effort must be expended to reach the audience you are seeking. Social media can also become insular: librarians following other librarians on twitter, Facebook pages for a library whose only “friends” are other librarians. My library has a Flickr account and a Facebook page, but both are badly in need of updates. Do we jump in on twitter, too?  With a limited staff can we replicate the success of a colleague using twitter at a larger university?

Those tools can help you connect to and interact with users in a way that is impossible with the mass-mailed newsletter, but only when used appropriately.  This is something I am constantly working on.