Headline: Traditional librarians and information scientists start to talk to one another!

One of the great things about the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting is that the organization for geoscience librarians, the Geoscience Information Society (GSIS) meets right along with them as an official part of the conference.  This brings librarians and scientists together in a wonderfully engaging setting.  Now, I’m betting that most of the geoscientists present don’t realize that there are librarians in their midst, but it’s great start to be in the same building for a little while.

Librarians tend to care a bit more about metadata than scientists - they just want to do the science.

I’ve attended sessions related to data preservation and more traditional library related stuff.  Permeating the talks at these sessions is the idea that librarians and the scientists dealing with data and information seem to be at the beginning of discussions about how they should work together.  This is encouraging.

The most visible folks on the scientists side are a group of folks from the USGS and state geological surveys.  These organizations have federal or state mandates to make their data available, so some scientists at these organizations have been tasked to develop the complex systems needed to share this information (The Geoscience Information Network, for example).  While in some cases, the scientists are unfamiliar with the systems and metadata standards developed for libraries that could assist them, others are building on the work of librarians, and others are encountering brand new issues that need new standards and practices.

I like seeing this, and I think we need to see more of it.  And for the most part, I think that the librarians have the responsibility of reaching out to the scientists (online, in person, at conferences, etc.) to start discussions about how we can help.

What I’m not entirely clear about, is how I can directly impact these efforts.  My tentative thoughts on this include working with faculty at my (small) institution to make their data accessible via appropriate external repositories (but do they want to share?), and working with the Geoscience Information Society to reach out to scientists to continue the conversation.  I’m not a cataloger (and I don’t want to be one), but their metadata experience could be highly valuable to scientists trying to manage their large quantities of information, and we need to try to let them know that.

A small collection of resources about the University of California ‘negotiation’ with Nature Publishing Group

This week, the University of California announced a possible boycott by faculty and researchers of Nature Publishing Group.  UC felt they had to act after NPG was proposing a 400% increase in the UC site license subscription cost.  The proposal is for faculty to stop submitting articles to the journal, stop reviewing articles, resign from editorial boards, etc., in addition to canceling subscriptions to NPG journals.

Open Access - one solution to exorbitate journal prices

Official resources about the ongoing issue:

A small selection of commentary by people smarter than me:

Is this the start of something?  I emailed the Chronicle of Higher Education article to the faculty listserv at my institution, and one person actually responded saying ‘thank you’ for sending along the article.  The library is just now formulating plans for an Open Access Week event on Campus – could this raise faculty awareness of some of these issues?

Is this what was needed to bring the problems with the scholarly research and publication economy to light?  Or will all of this be forgotten by the time the fall semester starts?

I guess we’ll find out.

Scholarly Communication: What can my library do right now?

In January, 2010, my library formed a Scholarly Communication Group, of which I am a member.  One of our first activities was to honor a recent faculty publication (Broadway : an encyclopedia of theater and American culture by Thomas Allen Greenfield) that involved many campus authors.  After this celebration, we have struggled a bit to find our role at this small liberal arts college.

WNY-O ACRL LogoIn search of a well defined purpose for our group, I attended the recent Spring Conference of the Western New York and Ontario chapter of the Association of College and Research Libraries (WNY-O ACRL).  The conference theme was “Getting the Word Out: Scholarly Communication and Academic Libraries.”  I was hoping to get some ideas of things that we could do NOW, and to look at how we might be able to grow our scholarly communication efforts over time.  I wasn’t disappointed.

What can we do now?

  • We can help faculty interpret their publishing contracts, suggesting the SPARC author addendum when appropriate.
  • We can do the research and legwork to help faculty find a good journal to publish something new in.  They are probably already familiar with journals in their primary research area, but if their interests lead them in new directions, we may be able to help find a publication venue that meets their needs.
  • We can recommend tools and programs to help scholars manage digital information.  Bookmarking from Delicious, Connotea or Diigo.  PDF and reference management with Zotero or Mendeley (among others).  Customizing research databases like Scopus.  And lots more.
  • We can recommend programs and tools to better enable intra- or inter- campus collaboration (webinar software, Google Docs, etc.)
  • We have always offered assistance with literature searching and research consultations, now these activities can be combined under a heading of Scholarly Communication Services

What do I want our library do in the future?

  • Develop an institutional repository for undergraduate presentations, faculty publications, conference posters and presentations and anything else that folks want to put in it.  We need to set up a repository, figure out how we will manage it, and what we want in it.
  • Work with faculty to develop plans and strategies for managing their research data (especially now that NSF grant applicants may be asked for a “Data Management Plan”).  We need to learn about data management.  I suspect that many of our current skills will transfer nicely, but I need to learn a bit about it.
  • Assist faculty with NIH Pub Med Central Deposits (this shouldn’t be too hard to get started with, but we have very few NIH grant recipients at the moment)
  • Present faculty colloquia about scholarly communication issues.  I think we are getting started on this.

The conference sessions also gave me some important insight about how to discuss scholarly communication issues with faculty and administrators.  Austin Booth and Charles Lyons from the University of Buffalo presented the results of some surveys and discussions they’ve done with faculty to gauge faculty interest and knowledge of scholarly communication issues.  The short story is that (no surprise) faculty aren’t particularly interested in the serials crisis.  They are interested in their own publishing opportunities.  As a result, the question of open access (either gold or green via institutional repositories) may best be framed in terms of the impact on faculty publication.  Although there is still some debate, the studies evaluating the impact of open access seem to point to an increase in citations to articles that are freely available.

Although it was brief (just one day) and small (no more than 50 participants) it was an excellent conference that gave me a lot of ideas for the future of scholarly communications in our library.

Weeding – a.k.a. Recycling, Withdrawing, De-selecting

One of the challenges of being a small library is that we cannot collect or keep everything.  We don’t have the space to keep things “for historical purposes.”  We would like to keep acquiring materials, and this means that we have to find space somewhere.  This means weeding materials from our collection (aka, recycling books and journals).

Outside factors can make these space pressures more acute – in the summer, our library will be kicked out of one of our on-campus storage locations (the building will eventually be demolished).  We will be simply moving some of the materials to another location, but other materials will be withdrawn from the collection to make room.

I have been working on several projects to make this possible.

First, I have been looking at our print indexes to see what can be withdrawn.  Sometimes this is an easy decision: We can withdraw the print versions of Chemical Abstracts and the Bibliography of North American Geology because we have subscriptions to their electronic versions, and those subscriptions won’t be going away any time soon.  I know that some librarians will say “but those print indexes are valuable learning and research tools – it’s easier to use the electronic version when you know how to use the print.”  To be honest, I’m not sure that I agree with this statement, especially since the electronic tools offer so many more options for finding information.  In any case, we simply can’t afford to hang on to them.

The next items to go are low use print journal volumes that we have stable electronic access to.  This is a bit more complicated, because what does “stable” access mean?  Publishers who have made certain journal volumes open access now could always take away that access in the future.  What happens when we can no longer subscribe to online access for a journal?  These decisions were made on a individual basis.

At the same time I am looking at our collection of USGS documents with our government documents librarian.  Our collection is a bit odd.  Much of it was never entered into our OPAC, so we don’t have a complete sense of what we have.  Much of it is now available online, but access is a bit dodgy for students used to clicking on the open url resolver button in GeoRef (which doesn’t work as we’d like for these documents).  I’ll be meeting with our geology faculty in the next couple of weeks to develop a plan for these documents – I suspect we will withdraw items that are available online.

Recycling books is never pretty. Image courtesy of Flickr user Mark Blevis

And finally we have a large collection of books in the storage location that is being closed.  These books were moved out of our main library 5 years ago, based on their previous usage.  At the time, these books hadn’t been used (checked out or taken off the shelf) in 10 years.  Students could still check them out by requesting them from storage.  If they were requested they were put back in our main library.  So right now, the books in storage haven’t been used in 15 years.  Most of them will be withdrawn.  I plan to have a quick look through them, however, since they were moved before I arrived here.

Of course, one of the trickiest parts of this is communicating this with the faculty.  The most visible part of all this is the big recycling dumpster into which all of these volumes are thrown.  It isn’t pretty.  And you don’t want that dumpster to be the first clue to faculty about what is going on.  So I have been trying to communicate with faculty about what we are doing.  Sometimes I am asking for advice, sometimes I am simply informing them of our decisions.  And I haven’t always done this in the best way possible.  For example, I didn’t give the faculty a lot of notice about the Spring Break withdrawal of indexes.  At this point the only thing I can do is make a plan to communicate with faculty about the next phases.

So I will send emails and request face-to-face meetings with our department representatives over the next couple of months in an effort to be open with the faculty about our decisions.  Hopefully they will still see me as an advocate for science resources in the library.

Faculty workshops, discussions and library initiatives: My big ideas and plans

In addition to my normal stuff (library instruction, reference, web design, committees) I’m been thinking about various discussions/workshops/plans for the future I’d like to pursue over the next few months:

lightbulb. Courtesy of Flickr user Tim Cummins
  • A faculty workshop about managing research and teaching information.  Most faculty are overwhelmed with information for their scholarly activities.  Some of them are familiar with citation managers (Endnote, Zotero, etc.) but not all.  I’d like to offer a workshop to discuss various free and not-free citation and document managers, as well as bookmarking tools like Connotea, CiteULike, delicious and Diigo.  I’ve explored many of these tools.  Some work for me, some don’t.  Faculty may appreciate being introduced to some of them.
  • A faculty workshop about creating assignments that effectively teach students literature research skills.  Some faculty aren’t interested in having a librarian come to their class and teach an information literacy session.  Would they be interested in how to make their assignments a bit better?  I recently chatted with a faculty member and gave him some feedback on a library assignment that he regularly gave his students – it hadn’t been updated in years, nor had he ever received feedback.  I was able to tell him what questions we were seeing at the reference desk.  He was thankful for the feedback.  I’m not sure that faculty would respond to a workshop like this, but it may be worth trying.
  • A series of campus-wide discussions.  The new “Scholarly Communication” group at my library is starting to think about ways to engage the college faculty and what role the library (and librarians) play in promoting/assisting/recognizing faculty scholarship.  We are talking about hosting (with the teaching and learning center) a discussion on open access.  Perhaps there could be a series of discussions about trends in Scholarly Communication:  digital humanities, sharing data, discovery of research via social networking, unusual new publications (incorporating video, for example).
  • Preserving student scholarship.  Each Spring, SUNY Geneseo hosts Great Day: “a college-wide symposium celebrating the creative and scholarly endeavors of our students.”  After Great Day, some of the posters are displayed for a year or two in the library or other academic buildings, but many are lost.  What if the library tried to preserve digital versions of these posters and presentations in an institutional repository?  What would be involved (organizationally)?  How do we deal with copyright?  What options do we offer students? Creative commons? Transfer copyright to Geneseo?  Maintain copyright?  Access?
  • Should I try to convince library staff to adopt an open access policy for their publications?  Gold?  Green?  (See Peter Suber’s excellent introduction to OA for definitions.)  Would folks object to such a policy?
  • I would love to have a discussion with library staff about the future of librarianship.  Recent discussions at the ScienceOnline2010 conference, friendfeed discussions, blog posts and other items make me think about where my profession is headed.  I would love to sit down with my colleagues to chat about it.  Trying to find a time when more than two or three of us can get together?  That’s the challenge.

There’s the list that I thought of this afternoon.  Nothing groundbreaking, but it should keep me busy for a little while.

Why academic librarians need to stop going to library conferences

ala conference - 'the stacks'
The vendors at the ALA conference, "The Stacks". From flickr.com user Squid!

And start going to the conferences our users – especially the faculty we work with – go to.

OK, we don’t have to completely stop going to library conferences, but unless we engage with our users more fully, I think we run the risk of being forgotten.

A bit of background.

At the ScienceOnline2010 conference, two librarians held a session attempting to tell scientists and researchers about library tools that were available.  The ensuing discussion between librarians and scientists solidified some ideas that I’ve been having for a while now about the library world.

Overall, there was a disconnect between the library world and the research world.  Scientists and scholars aren’t aware of what librarians do, beyond the whole ‘buying books’ thing.  And I don’t think that librarians are spending enough time listening to scientists and scholars to figure out what they really need and want.

After reading about this discussion online, a medical researcher responded in a blog post with a rather provocative title about what he thinks librarians can do for researchers.

Librarians – we need to listen to what the researchers are saying, and we need to play an active role in the discussion.  As a profession, I think we are more insular than we should be.  This needs to change.

That’s why we need to start attending the same conferences as the scholars we serve.

By engaging more fully with our users, we will better understand their needs (perhaps even anticipate some of them), and the library conferences we do attend will be more useful.

So, to that end, even though the freebies are more plentiful, I will not be attending the ALA annual conference this summer.  Hopefully, I will head to Denver for the Geological Society of America national meeting in October.  And perhaps the year after that I will make it to the American Chemical Society conference.

Relationships online and off – ScienceOnline2010

ScienceOnline2010 Logo

One of the major themes of the ScienceOnline2010 conference was actually personal relationships.

Despite the stereotypes of scientists, effective communication of science comes down to effective personal relationships online or off.  For bloggers, journalists, researchers and librarians, personal relationships are an essential part of doing their job well.  In a session called “Trust and Critical Thinking” moderator Stephanie Zvan and panelists Greg Laden, PZ Meyers, Deiree Schell and Kirsten Sanford discussed how essential it was to establish trust and authority in your online or media presence.  We discussed the hope that as more scientists communicate authentically with the public, pseudoscience might be pushed aside – it would be nice if the top Google search results on certain science subjects would come from authoritative folks.

A lightly attended session from librarians Dorothea Salo and Stephanie Willen Brown entitled “Scientists! What can your librarian do for you?” turned into a great discussion about the need for scientists and librarians to work together.  The librarians discussed repositories, how they can help scientists understand copyright, and how they can help teach students about scientific communication.  Since most researchers get a lot of information from their peers, the scientists suggested that one of the ways librarians can be helpful is to help them make these connections – recommending social networks and other tools to assist them in finding collaborators.  (A great list of resources discussed at the session can be found here, and Dorothea’s slides are available here.)

The last session of the conference got a little interesting – called “Online Civility and Its (Muppethugging) Discontents”.  Panelists Dr. Isis, Dr. Free Ride and Sheril Kirshenbaum lead a discussion about what “civility” means and how it applies to online environments.  At one point two participants were kind enough to demonstrate one type of online disagreement – the kind where two folks disagree vehemently about something, but it turns out that they were both talking about something slightly different.  I tend to dislike conflict, but the session gave me an opportunity to think about how ‘civility’ can be used as an excuse to prevent some members of a community from participating fully.

Of course, one of the best parts about a small conference like this is the chance to talk with folks over snacks, tea and available power outlets.  I got a chance to talk with some other librarians and a few scientists – these conversations are wonderful for helping me make sense of the formal talks and giving me ideas for how some of the concepts I learned about can be applied at my library and my college.