Are recent developments in scholarly communication relevant to undergraduates?


SCIENCE!
Originally uploaded by
viscousplatypus

On a weekly basis, a new article or editorial comes out discussing the shifting paradigm of how scientists communicate with one another.  According to many, the journal article – the mainstay of scientific communication – is about to undergo a major metamorphosis as blogs and new journal concepts affect how science is done.  A recent report from the Science Online London 2009 conference exemplifies this.

I am very excited about these changes, and I spend some of my time checking out real-time science blogs like Useful Chemistry, participating on online science networks like Nature Network, and exploring what PLOS ONE has to offer.

But how relevant are all of these new changes to the average undergraduate?  Do they need to know about them?  If they don’t need to know now, will they in the near future?

Most of the writing assignments I’m seeing are still asking students to find traditional scholarly articles as the only sources for their papers.  Most of the faculty at my small undergraduate institution are still very traditional with regard to scholarly communication.  A (very) few faculty still have to be convinced that an online journal is acceptable, and I wrote an email a few months ago explaining that PLOS Medicine is a highly regarded journal.

Until a consensus develops around what is scholarly and what isn’t in the online world, how are undergraduate students (who still need help telling apart a review article and a piece of original research) supposed to navigate these on-going changes?

In the short term, I don’t think that undergraduates need to know a lot about these developments, beyond their own personal interest in science blogs or online science news.  For the time being, a science student can successfully navigate his or her undergraduate education without an awareness of the scientific blogosphere or the concept of open science.

As much as I would love to share my excitement of all of these fascinating changes, I don’t think students need to know about them.  At the moment, I teach students about the basic differences between review articles, primary research articles and news articles.

In the future I will probably talk about blogs and social networks and how to access primary data sets – I’m looking forward to it.

Faculty Outreach


Handshake

Originally uploaded by Aidan Jones

Apparently, our day-long meeting last Tuesday started out as a collection development retreat.  Somewhere in the planning, our collection development librarian realized that we needed to take a step back and talk about how we communicate with faculty in general.  The topic is related to collection development through the library liaison program (or lack there of).

And so, as a result, almost all of the librarians at my library gathered off campus for a full day of discussion about what we are currently doing to reach out to faculty, what we wish we were doing, and what will be possible for us to do in the future.

I am one of the few librarians at my library with a very firm group of “constituents” – the science departments.  We have never had the staff to develop a complete library liaison program and have concentrated our energies on information literacy instruction, rather than hiring subject-specific bibliographers.

In our day-long retreat about faculty outreach, we were able to identify areas where we have been successful at reaching out to faculty (instruction), areas that we need some improvement in (collection development), and areas that we haven’t even dipped our toes in yet (scholarly communication).

After a lot of discussion, we were able to come up with a few goals for faculty outreach for the library as a whole:

  • Organize a faculty luncheon for department chairs, faculty reps, and other interested parties to discuss library issues (especially resources).
  • Improve and update our social networking presence.

We also decided to set a few goals for ourselves.  I wanted to set myself a few modest, concrete goals that I could check off (or not) at the end of the year.

  1. Contact each of my departments about visiting a department meeting for 10 minutes to discuss library resources and services
  2. Meet with Chemistry faculty to talk about changes to our chemistry information literacy program.
  3. Advertise our science-related library workshops to the science faculty

This is in addition to my normal reference, instruction and web design duties.  Perhaps I will write another post at the end of the year to see if I was able to meet my modest faculty outreach goals.

Libraries and mobile devices

Our new mobile web page
Our new mobile web page

Today is the Handheld Librarian conference. You can follow the tweets from the conference.  Around 11am I wish I had registered for it. Looking at all of the tweets about the technical problems, I’m not so disappointed. I am hoping that some of the information will be made available later on, because this is a subject I have been thinking about a lot for my library.

Recently, I created a very basic mobile webpage for our library.  At the moment, it contains three main pieces of information:  library hours, contact information, and links to a (very) few databases with mobile interfaces.

In my search for databases to include on this list, I was surprised by the low number of vendors with such interfaces.  I also wondered exactly how users would use these mobile resources.

In addition, we have been paying attention to what is happening with Kindle eBook readers.  There seems to be a lot of debate about how/if libraries can lend these out or take advantage of the eBook market in anyway.

I am an avid reader of eBooks on my iPhone, through the Kindle reader for iPhone and now the new Barnes and Noble eBook reader.  So far, the Kindle reader is easier to use.

I’m looking forward to seeing what other libraries are doing with mobile devices to provide content and services.

A day in my life as an undergraduate science librarian

I decided to follow along with a librarian blog meme, the “library day in the life“.  Since it is the summer, my day today is much different than a day during the semester.  The most notable difference is the lack of meetings.  Although the summer is a great time to make changes and get projects done, it can be very difficult to pull together all of the interested individuals.

Photo 4

7:55am – Arrive at work, Make tea.  The day can officially start.

8-8:30am – Check email, calendar.  Lots of folks are on vacation this week, which seems to account for my lack of meetings today.  Accept some future meeting invitations, decline others.  Realize that one librarian who had reference desk hours today won’t be here.  Email colleagues to see if we can split her hours.  Wishing Oracle calendar could actually interface with other things (esp. iPhone)

8:30am – Write up a blog post about our switch from SciFinder Client version to SciFinder Web.  Checking to see if appropriate URLs have been added to our proxy server so folks can get to SciFinder off campus.

8:50am – Got distracted by Explored Barnes and Noble’s new eBook reader for iPhone.  I already have the Kindle reader for iPhone, which I love.  I’d like to encourage some competition in the eBook market, though, so I think my next few purchases will be from B&N.

9:00am – First reference shift of the day, substituting for an absent colleague.   With very few students on campus, and even fewer in the library, this is very slow.  One person asked for tape, but no reference questions.

10am – Another hour of reference for absent colleague.  I will have three hours of reference today, one more than usual.

While at the reference desk this morning I manage to:

  • Catch up on a few blogs
  • Chat with our Sys admin to get some ezproxy settings changed for the switch to SciFinder web
  • Resolve a broken link in the blog post I just wrote
  • Smile and wave at a tour group as they point out the research help desk
  • Review a list of action items for a campus wide committee I’m on
  • Figure out why a link won’t work in our Resources by Subject lists
  • Explore possible ways of fixing that link, which is being problemmatic.
  • Finally fix the troublesome link
  • Smile and wave again at another tour group
  • Added google analytics to our new mobile webpages
  • Answered 1 reference question (How to find a copy of Civilization and its Discontents)

11:00am – Make tea, get a snack.

11:10am – Start cleaning desk.  Constant distractions as I stop to look up interesting things from the pieces of paper I should be throwing away or filing.  Some of the interesting things:

  • Math books from the MAA
  • IOP Librarian Forum on Facebook
  • Articles from sample copies of magazines I picked up at SLA 2009 in June
  • Finally figured out how to import our library blog to our library Facebook page. Did the same thing for my own blog on my own Facebook page. Also claimed the vanity URL for our library page.

12:15pm – Read an article about “making chat widgets work for online reference” from Online magazine (not freely available online).  Passed it along to a colleague who is on the committee working to implement web chat here.

12:30pm – Lunch.  Tried to read a Barnes and Noble eBook on my iPhone, but spent 15 minutes trying to “unlock” the book with my credit card number.  Why can’t I just log in to my B&N account?  Kindle reader wins this round.

1pm – Committee Meeting – “Creating a Collaborative Research Center”. I am on a campus committee here to look at ways to increase collaborative research (and the funding for that research).

2pm – Back on the reference desk, updating the Geology subject guideDistracted by Explored the neat search options on Mindat.org.  Finished adding some excellent resources.  Emailed faculty to inform them of the changes and to ask for additional suggestions.

3pm – Finally answered a real reference question just as my reference shift was ending.  Student was looking to see if we had any of the movies she had to watch for an assignment (most were checked out, but one was still available).

3:30pm – Head home.  I’m leaving early on Monday and Tuesday of this week to spend some time with my family.  This helps balance out all the times during the semester where I will stay late.

What impact is the impact factor measuring?

I recently read a very interesting article in PLoS ONE examining various measures of the scientific importance of particular journals:

Bollen, J., Van de Sompel, H., Hagberg, A., & Chute, R. (2009). A Principal Component Analysis of 39 Scientific Impact Measures PLoS ONE, 4 (6) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006022

The article isn’t breaking new ground in its criticism of the impact factor, calculated by Thomson Scientific.  However, the statistical analysis comparing multiple measures of importance sheds new light on the relationship between the various measures.

The authors analyzed 39 different impact measures that fall into two main groups: those that look at citation counts and those that look at online usage data (page views and downloads).  A few additional measures that take account of online social networks were also included.

Schematic representation of PCA analysis
Schematic representation of PCA analysis. JIF is the normal Journal Impact Factor from Thompson Scientific

In general, the usage measurements cluster more closely together than the citation measurements – they are measuring approximately the same thing.

As a result of this analysis, they were able to differentiate measures that looked at immediate (“rapid”) use vs. longer term use (“delayed”), and to distinguish measures that look at how popular a resource is vs. how prestigious a resource is.

All of this leads us to repeat the problem posited by the authors:  we don’t have an accepted definition of what “impact” really is.

Publications, institutions, and tenure committees all have different needs and requirements.  For example, the faculty at one large research institution may be more concerned about prestige, while another may need to market their programs and examine their popularity.  I think this analysis shows that folks can and should be a bit more choosy when selecting the measure they use to judge their competitors, their research, and their colleagues.

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.

No more print textbooks


No more print textbooks?

Originally uploaded by Amin Tabrizi

Because Arnold Schwarzenegger says so.

This isn’t exactly a new prediction, but two recent news stories seem to confirm the downfall of the print textbook.  First, the NY Times reports on a high school that ditched their algebra textbook in favor of a curriculum designed by the teachers.  Then, the big news from California that Gov. Schwarzenegger has declared print textbooks to be old fashioned, and educators should start looking on the web for material to meet their needs.  (My favorite headline about Gov. Schwarzenegger’s comments:  Arnold Schwarzenegger says hasta la vista to textbooks.)

While California is hoping that the state will save money by not purchasing books for K-12 students, I hope that this trend extends into higher education.  Wouldn’t it be great if students didn’t have to shell out $200 for their organic chemistry or introductory biology textbook?  Instead, they could rely on free material on the web that their professor picked out?

Update: There is a new article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about one university’s experience with eBook textbooks.

Chemistry Librarians


chemistry

Originally uploaded by Brian Hathcock

Today I attended a small workshop held at the University of Toronto for chemistry librarians. It is an exciting group to be a member of (or at least a partial member, since I work with all the sciences). There were presentations from fellow librarians, a chemistry faculty member, and several vendors. It was a long day (rush hour traffic in Toronto is crazy!), but well worth it.

The vendor presentations were interesting, but reminded me that vendors really need to learn to edit their presentations. I know that your latest product is the best thing ever, but if you are allotted a half-hour time slot, please make sure that you only take a half-hour!

This was a great learning experience for me. I am not a chemist, and listening to my librarian colleagues discuss resources and the ways they assist faculty and students helps me understand how chemists work. I am slowly catching on, but I have a lot to learn.

As a relatively new librarian, it is vital for me to learn as much as I can about the literature of the disciplines I am responsible for, but it is also important to learn about the culture of those disciplines. This is something that takes time, and I am just at the beginning.

I was able to share with my colleagues some of the work we have been doing in information literacy instruction in chemistry, and get some wonderful feedback from librarians and chemistry faculty regarding the future of our program.

Scholarly Communication 101

Open Access
Open Access

Today I attended one of the ACRL Scholarly Communication 101 workshops, held at the Uniersity at Buffalo.  It was an excellent workshop and met my expectations perfectly.

I have presented information about new forms of scholarly communication in the past, including Nature Network and ScienceBlogs.com, but I was missing some basic information, and this workshop filled in the gaps nicely.

Some interesting factoids about scholarly publishing

  • STM publications make up 84% of the $19.1 billion industry
  • 91% of the dollars spent on journals go to the for-profit publishers
  • Papers in the for-profit publications only account for 38% of citations

The business model of publishing scientific papers isn’t really working, and right now everyone is trying to figure out what to do about it.  Publishers are clinging to traditional business practices (getting content from scholars for free, charging libraries a lot of money for access).  Library budgets are shrinking, and we can’t afford to purchase access to everything.

One possible solution:  open access models of publication.

I am a big advocate of open access, and this workshop explored some of the advantages of the model.

One example that struck home with me was the story of a faculty member approaching the library and asking that his publications be archived in their institutional repository.  The library had to tell him that unfortunately, this wasn’t possible:  the faculty member hadn’t retained the right to his publications.  Typical author agreements normally assign copyright to the publisher.  The publisher occasionally grants certain rights back to the author, but not always.

Open access publication would allow a researcher to do what he or she wants with the results of their research.

The educational mission of universities encourages us to encourage open access publication.  Open access allows more readers to learn from the research conducted by scholars.

Libraries and librarians should do everything they can to encourage their faculty to publish in open access journals, or at least retain the copyright to their work.  Some libraries are assisting authors in paying author fees in open access publications.  Other libraries are publishing open access journals.  Some libraries are supporting consortia that encourage open access publication.  At the least, librarians can help inform their faculty about opportunities for open access publication, and educate them about the benefits to themselves, their colleagues, and their students.

Searching for Spectra


Spectrum

Originally uploaded by MikeParker

A recent conversation with a chemistry faculty member has led me on a search for chemical spectra data resources.

I started with a pretty blank slate. I knew that SciFinder, from Chemical Abstracts services contained a large amount of spectra, but this faculty member was looking for more.

So where do I start? Where does anyone start a search for information? With Google, or course!

A basic search for spectral information revealed the SpecInfo for the Internet database from Wiley. This would meet the needs of my faculty member. Great! The only problem: the pricetag. As a small college, we can’t afford such a specialized database. Back to the drawing board.

Luckily for me, there are a lot of chemistry librarians at large research universities who have collected online subject guides related to spectral data. Two that I found useful are from the University of Texas and George Washington University.

These subject guides point to free resources from NIST, as well as available print resources. Hopefully this will work for the faculty member!