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.

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Strategic Searching of the Geoscience Literature – GSA Presentation

This afternoon I will be standing in front of my poster at the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting:  “Fueling Learning Outside the Classroom with Strategic Searching of the Geoscience Literature”.   Stop by if you are in the area.

The poster is a part of the Geoscience Education session “Learning Outside the Geoscience Classroom: Engaging Students Beyond the Lecture and Laboratory Setting

In this poster, we are presenting a plan for information literacy instruction in mid-level geology courses and including some concrete ideas for how geology professors can include some of these strategies in their classes whether or not they have a science librarian available to collaborate with.

Associated information:

A unique conference – alumni, undergraduates and faculty

Every three years, my alma mater, St. Lawrence University, hosts a unique conference experience for its current and former geology majors.  Alumni return to campus while classes are in session to present research related talks, discuss career paths and network with current geology students.

I had an opportunity to attend one of these conferences when I was an undergraduate. The ability to chat with recent grads about the realities of graduate school was incredibly useful.  The opportunity to see what kinds of careers the alumni had pursued was helpful for me to answer that ever present question – what exactly can you do with a degree in geology?

As an alumna, I have a great opportunity to talk to current undergraduates about the opportunities available in librarianship/information science.  I also have a chance to catch up with some friends from college.

Some highlights of this conference:

    • The variety of talks from practicing professional geologists.  Although academic presentations still outnumbered the more practical ones, the talks given by professional geologists were engaging, interesting and very informative (perhaps more so than the academic presentations?).  I think they were very helpful for the students.
    • Giant chocolate chip cookies from the “Pub”, one of the on campus eating establishments.
    • A chance to chat briefly with the new president of the University who wrote an excellent article describing libraries as “the most dangerous building on campus“.

      Intellectual chain reactions exist in an air of danger, daring and human hazard; transforming elements of thought require the chase, the hunt, and the adventure of traversing narrow cliff-side paths and box canyons.

        • Talking to a former classmate whose old nickname was based on the beer he drank about potty training and the challenges of having a newborn baby at home.
        • The opportunity to chat with old friends and current students.  Seeing my friends is great, but it is wonderful to chat with highly intelligent and motivated young people about what they want to be when they grow up.  And I love giving advice, so that is fun too.

          This unique conference will happen again in 2013, and I’m already looking forward to it.

          Thoughts on teaching geology

          As a write this, my GSCI 100 summer school students are taking their final exam (it isn’t cumulative, in case you are wondering).  The last six weeks represent my first full-course teaching experience since I joined the library world in 2005.

          An image of the Marcellus Shale
          An outcrop of the Marcellus Shale

          It was fun and exhausting.

          It was fun to talk about geology again.  I love my job, I love libraries, and I love the quest for information.  But my first love was the natural world, and the study of it through the lens of geology.  My librarian colleagues can attest to my occasional mini lectures on geologic topics (especially when they are trapped in vehicles on the way to conferences), but it was great to share more detail on these topics with a group of students.  I got to talk about climate change and the Marcellus Shale and flooding.  We talked about the recent earthquake that was felt in Western New York and the geology behind other recent earthquakes.

          But it was also exhausting.  During summer school, a typical 14 week class is compressed into 6 weeks.  Which means that my preparation time for this class was compressed, too.  Because I haven’t taught an intro geology class in 5 years, and because the student’s textbook was new to me, I had a lot of prep work to do.  Most of my evenings (after my daughter is in bed) have been spent at my kitchen table on my laptop working on lectures and labs for upcoming classes.  Many nights, I have had to stay up late finishing grading or lectures!

          Folks have been asking me, “Would you teach it again?”  I’ve said that I might.  Course prep for next time probably wouldn’t be as onerous, and the extra money is nice.  It is a great way to stay in the world of geology, and to share my love of this subject with students.  We’ll see what happens – the geoscience department may not need my help again.

          Teaching Summer School

          About five years ago, I left a job teaching introductory geology labs (and the occasional intro class) to move into the world of librarianship.   I don’t regret my move one bit – I really love my job.

          But I still love geology.   And this summer I may have an opportunity to immerse myself in Introductory Geology all over again.  Presuming that enough students sign up, I will be teaching GSCI 100, “Our Geologic Environment,” during the first summer session here at Geneseo.

          Some of the lovely local geology exposed at Letchworth State Park. Creative Commons licenced picture courtesy of Flickr user Linden_Tea

          GSCI 100 N/Our Geologic Environment
          This course is intended for non-science majors who have an interest in their physical environment. The course is designed to develop an understanding of the interaction of Earth processes, the environment, and the human population. Topics include Earth materials, natural resources, geologic hazards, environmental change, and global environmental issues.

          I have been reminding myself which elements I need to include in a syllabus (What’s my office number, again? It’s the second cubicle on the right), and trying to figure out which topics I want to teach about.  I have downloaded (but not yet read) an article about using the news media in Introductory Geology classes.  I got to order a free copy of the textbook I will be using, and I’m pulling out interesting chapters from these books that I always said I would use in class if I taught geology again.

          I will also be teaching the lab section that goes along with the introductory course.  I will get to play with rocks and maps and other fun stuff again.  Luckily I won’t have to design all of the labs – I will be able to use the pre-packaged labs that the department already has set up.

          I’m nervous and excited about the prospect of teaching geology again 4 days a week for over two hours each day.  June is going to be a very busy month for me, because I will be doing this on top of everything else I have going on in the summer.

          Since many librarians have an MS or an MA is a discipline other than librarianship (in addition to their MLS), I was wondering how often other librarians teach in their disciplines.  It doesn’t seem very common.  I know of librarians who teach as adjuncts in MLS programs, but I only know of one other librarian who teaches in her discipline.

          Decreasing budgets and increasing costs – working with faculty to mitigate the damage

          Image courtesy of Flickr user ehisforadam
          Image courtesy of Flickr user ehisforadam

          Like many academic libraries, our library budget has recently been cut.  Last year, we dealt with the cuts by severely cutting our book budget and our student employee budget.  This year, the additional budget cuts made some journal cancellations necessary.  Most of our cuts involve canceling individual print or online subscriptions if we already had access via an aggregator (like ProQuest or Ebsco).  We have (thankfully) been able to almost completely make up our budget gap without loosing access to any content.

          As a result of examining our journal subscriptions, the opportunity arose to subscribe to the full text geology resource GeoScienceWorld.  If we canceled individual subscriptions to journals that were available in GeoScienceWorld, we could almost make up the difference.  We would need to cancel a couple of other journals in order to make this feasible.

          I thought that the increased content and ease of use provided by GeoScienceWorld made this a good move, and I took the question to the Geosciences department.

          I created a list of individual journals we would need to cancel (that would be available GeoScienceWorld).  I created a list of journals that we would gain access to.  I also created a list of suggested cancellations we would have to make in order to make up the difference.  In creating my list of suggested cancellations, I worked hard to minimize the loss of content.

          In a meeting with the Geosciences library representative and department chair, they were very receptive to my plan, even suggested some cancellations that I assumed would be ‘off limits’.

          Overall, they understood the budget pressures – their departmental budget had also been cut – and they appreciated the fact that this decision was being left (mostly) in their hands.  The department chair was going to bring the information back to the department for a final decision – making sure that all the faculty are in the loop.

          I am pleased with the communication between the library and the faculty on this issue, and I will try to use this example as a model in future decisions regarding departmental resources.

          Finding Geologic Maps Online

          New (or New to Me) from the USGS

          Try finding a geologic map of a specific location, and you may run into some trouble.  Not because these maps don’t exist, or because they aren’t online (many of them are), they are just very tricky to find.

          The recently updated Geologic Map of North America
          The recently updated Geologic Map of North America (2005)

          Traditionally, users needed to be able to search for a term that describes the geographical area covered.  Sometimes this is straightforward:  “New York State” or “North America”.  But sometimes it can get confusing: if you would like geologic information about Chautauqua County in New York State, would the New Your State map give you enough detail?  What about a geologic map of Western New York, or the Appalachian low-lands, or the Lake Erie Plain?  There are many, many ways to describe a geographical area in words, often making it difficult to find what you want.

          The National Geologic Map Database Data Portal from the USGS attempts to take the guesswork out of this, by allowing users to use a map of the United States to identify the area they need information on, and connect them to a relevant geologic map (either online or in print).

          It is still a bit quirky (it is still labeled a prototype) but it is a huge step in the right direction for ease of use.

          The National Geologic Map Database Catalog can also be searched in a more traditional manner, allowing users to locate print and online maps.

          Additional resources for geologic maps.

          • About.com has a fairly good page linking to images of state geologic maps.  Some of the links don’t work anymore, but those that do images could give users a good overview of state geology.
          • Texas A&M University Library has digitized the Geologic Atlas of the United States, a series of maps and information published by the USGS between 1894 and 1945.  These maps sets offer great detail, in an easy to use online interface, although they are older.
          • The OneGeology Portal is a world-wide project hoping to provide easy online access to geologic map information from around the globe.  It is a partnership of national geologic surveys.  Additional information about the project can be found here.

          Of course, all of this assumes that you are simply looking for an image of a map.  If you are looking for GIS geologic data, that is a whole different story!