Christina's LIS Rant
Friday, April 30, 2004
  What metrics to use for modern libraries (public and others)?
There's been a lot of hype recently about a UK Libri Report saying that if trends continue, the libraries will be out of business in less than 20 years (found on ResourceShelf and elsewhere).
While I agree that libraries need to be open more hours and need to be clean and welcoming, I'm not certain I agree with the tripling of the book budgets. The main metric the author uses is book circulation. Virtual reference services, electronic library services, and telephone reference services are not charted. Likewise, library visits are to the physical location, not to the electronic location. I argue that the cost per visit is not a good measure because it does not take in to account the rising journal subscription costs, the electronic usage of resources, and the in-library use of materials.
Also, the report states that libraries have started programs recently to better serve the disadvantaged, "but they are not what, in market research, the majority of the public say they want." Of course! How much of the public would vote to have welfare? Do parents want their tax money to serve their local school or to be shifted to a poorer district? We all complain that "Johnny can't read" but do we want to spend our tax money preparing young children to read through library programs?
As for the customers heading to the library and not finding what they're looking for. 50% is a STANDARD number (and actually better than in many academic libraries). See F.W. Lancaster on shelf availability in If you want to evaluate your library..., 2nd ed., (Champaign, Il.: U of Ill. GSLIS, 1993). Specifically, see pages 129-135. The book must be owned, it must be checked in, then it must be shelved, and it must be where the customer is looking for it (not on display or in reference by accident...). Did the person rating the Hampshire library ask a reference librarian or just go to the shelf? The 90% standard the author sets is arbitrary and wrong. Libraries can't possibly buy (or even rent) enough copies of the hot new best sellers to meet demand. What happens to the pallet of Dr. Phil books when the customers move on to the LA Diet?
I agree that libraries should be open later on Sundays. From my little bit of experience, it's a matter of rushing people out at 5pm.
About the facilities. In the U.S. you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. You're part of local government so cleaning goes to the lowest bidder and the branch manager is in charge but has no say in the contracts. When we finally get bond issues to build a new library, then people complain that it was money that should have been spent on books or staff or schools or highways.
About materials processing:
Libraries label all the books they handle so that they can be easily identified when returned from loan and replaced on the correct shelf. Yet the jacket of more than 95% of books makes perfectly clear where they should go.There are very few books that need a further identification.

Ok, so this is clearly, blatantly wrong. How about children's vs. YA vs. adult? Can you tell that from the cover? How about the 158 section? How do you arrange stuff in there? The back covers all say "self help." Maybe the author should realize that processing is more because the books are supposed to last. They have antitheft devices, they have plastic covers, they are tracked individually (not just by title)...
This turned into somewhat of a rant, but it gets down to this: the author is comparing libraries to for-profit bookstores. They have distinctly different missions and structures. I believe in treating the patrons like customers, marketing our materials and services, but that's as far as I'll take it. I hope a British librarian takes a stand against this report locally.
Wednesday, April 28, 2004
  CrossRef Searching
This has been at the periphery of my consciousness for a while so I finally tried it today after reading a not so good article in Nature that mentioned it (the article was a little misleading and really compared apples to oranges so I don't want to link to it but see v.428 p.683).
CrossRef Searching is actually pretty good. A group of 9 large publishers have collaborated with Google to allow free fulltext searching of their online journal archives and provide doi links. To try this, head to one of the publisher's sites. I tried Nature's link. The ACM articles weren't going (because ACM is down?) but the other publishers were right on track and much more relevant that what an open internet search would yield. It's still not made for precision, however. I cringe when people refer to ScienceDirect as a database like Inspec or Compendex. This one doesn't have controlled vocabulary or field searching, either, so I would only recommend it to someone who doesn't have access to the high powered databases but will pay-per-view or ILL for articles.
  Using Google search results as a measure of “fame”
Found via Physics Web 27 April 2004.
"Fame in science is different to fame in other areas of life according to physicists at Clarkson University in the US. Daniel ben-Avraham and colleagues have shown that the fame of a scientist - as measured by the number of hits on Google - is directly proportional to their merit as measured by the number of research papers they have published. Such a relationship is not found for other groups such as sportsmen or actors (J P Bagrow et al. 2004 arXiv/cond-mat/0404515)."

There are several large problems with this article. First, the author’s definition of fame is “how well linked we are in… the World Wide Web.” Yet their measurement of how well linked they are only uses the proprietary Google PageRank feature. If the Google algorithms were published, or relied solely on linking, then this might be justifiable. As it stands, however, one is never certain what tweaks have been made and why top sites have dropped out of the results (see discussion here. Also, there are many documented instances of errors in the PageRank as well as efforts to artificially inflate the rank of a given page (see, for example, this Search Engine Watch article.

Second, this “fame” is compared to achievement which is then equated to merit. The model for this study used an obvious, less disputable metric: the number of enemy planes shot down by a fighter pilot. What metric is appropriate in measuring the merit or achievement of a physicist? The authors use number of publications appearing on www.arxiv.org/cond-mat! They do nothing to counteract occasions when the head of a research group appends his name to every paper written by his group. Also, wouldn’t it make more sense to weigh articles eventually published in Nature or Science or other high impact journals more heavily than never published (and never reviewed) eprints? Using the number of citations in cond-mat is circular reasoning because the first few hits in Google generally come from there.

The mathematics of the article are most likely correct, but the entire basis of the study is not. Bibliometrics of science is a fascinating subject, but there are many pitfalls to be avoided; it appears that these authors have hit them all.
Friday, April 23, 2004
  University of Maryland's CIP
University of Maryland's Center for Information Policy has a (fairly) new Director, Lee Strickland. I think most MLS's from Maryland, as well as other nearby states, are familiar with his work. This and the addition of several new researchers should reinvigorate the center. (pointed out on beSpacific)
Tuesday, April 20, 2004
  BloggerCon II, the Wired Coverage
by Mark Baard, 1:03PM 4/19/04 (pointed out by Garrett via e-mail)
This is a decent write-up of the journalism session. It doesn't cover other sessions, though. Maybe media folks only attended these two sessions.
  BloggerCon II, the NT Times Coverage
4/19/2004 by Julie Flaherty (free reg req.)
Aack! The only session she covers is the one about making money using blogs. To me, that was the least beneficial session. The other wonderful sessions on using blogs for international understanding, to promote libraries, to make emotional connections, to express yourself, to have journalistic coverage of local events were so much more important to the conference. Many, many of us do not intend to make money blogging and are even opposed to obtrusive ads. Personally, I'm willing to have a few ads placed here by Blogger to support this free service (a necessary evil), but when they start talking about ads in feeds, that's too far.
I wonder if this is NY Times way of de-emphasizing the impact of blogs on journalism? Minimizing the effect of the competition?
Monday, April 19, 2004
  BloggerConII: The Emotional Life of Blogs with John Perry Barlow
This session was unplanned and was a happy addition to the schedule. Bryan Strawser kept a running log of the discussion on his blog: (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV).
This session covered a lot of really interesting issues about blogging. First, even if you make a conscious attempt to be unbiased and formal, eventually your personality comes through. Especially when your archives are available. Sometimes people feel that they know you because they read your blog, but all they know are some facts about you. There have been a few cases where a blogger has made up an identity (Xander?) and dupped people. Also, think, sometimes before you post or make a comment that could be hurtful because these comments are read by the blog owners.

We discussed the differences between forums (old bbs), listservs, and blogs. The more experienced in the room felt that the vitriolic flame wars that have become common in forums are much less likely on blogs because you are speaking, for the most part, directly to the writer. Also, there's more freedom on blogs to discuss different topics, so this might encourage the quieter/introverted/meek to come forward. As Dan Gould suggested, is the blogosphere a more equitable allocation of interest to ideas?

Many attendees have been surprised about the impact their blogs have had on people. One attendee has started writing poetry on her blog. JPB has had many people tell him that his blog has helped them grieve over a lost friend or loved one. I mentioned that these are perhaps valuable for teens who feel they are outcasts. They can now write an anonymous diary in a friendly media. Maybe it would be less likely for a little brother/sister to read and tell mom if it's kept with a password or is anonymous?

Also, we talked about preservation of blogs. You can get your blog archives printed and bound by at least one vendor, but is that important? Is the experience of keeping a diary or writing your thoughts and through them becoming connected more important? Some blogs cover ephemeral topics, but others are art work.
  Revisiting the "don't believe citation analysis" issue
This discussion came up at least twice in my time at BloggerConII. First, in the Librarianesque session then later in the Emotional Life of Blogs session.
Here are several papers written by a couple of electrical engineers at UCLA:
1. cond-mat/0401529 [abs, pdf] :
Title: Stochastic modeling of citation slips
Authors: M.V. Simkin, V.P. Roychowdhury
Subj-class: Disordered Systems and Neural Networks; Physics and Society
2. cond-mat/0310049 [abs, pdf] :
Title: Theory of Aces: Fame by chance or merit?
Authors: M.V. Simkin, V.P. Roychowdhury
Subj-class: Disordered Systems and Neural Networks; Physics and Society
3. cond-mat/0305150 [abs, pdf] :
Title: Copied citations create renowned papers?
Authors: M.V. Simkin, V.P. Roychowdhury
Subj-class: Disordered Systems and Neural Networks; Physics and Society
4. cond-mat/0212043 [abs, pdf] :
Title: Read before you cite!
Authors: M.V. Simkin, V.P. Roychowdhury (UCLA)
Subj-class: Disordered Systems and Neural Networks; Statistical Mechanics; Physics and Society
Journal-ref: Complex Syst. 14 (2003) 269-274

I also mentioned how there was an error in reporting that I believe has not been fixed for large Astronomy journals. See: Helmut A. Abt. "Some Incorrect Journal Impact Factors" BAAS v.36 n.1.. Available online http://www.aas.org/publications/baas/v36n1/abtfactors2.pdf (I'm not sure if a subscription is required).
  BloggerConII: International Session with Rebecca McKinnon
This, too, was a well attended session. There were only about two non-Americans there in meatspace, but several Chinese and Iranian bloggers were on IRC.
The discussion leader has written up her notes from the session on her blog.
Others have also done write-ups, too, so I'll just add my notes and views.
It seems at least superficially that blogs would be a good way to find little-reported information on developing countries; however, Ethan Zuckerman's research shows that the countries that are well covered in the western media are exactly the countries that are well covered the the blogosphere; that is, blogs are no better at covering Africa, Asia, etc., than CNN is. The thought is that Americans are the largest group blogging, and we don't care about these countries (not true, but perhaps the perception). How do we, in this room, get more coverage of these countries?
A successful example of a LDC blogging is Iran. This can be directly linked back to one expat in Toronto who translated instructions for blogging into the local language and made it possible. We were cautioned that the Iranian phenomenon cannot be extrapolated to China or African countries. In Ghana, for example, the political discourse is mainly on Talk Radio which is ephemeral. Transcripts are not kept or put on the internet. How do we fix this? How do we connect Talk Radio with blogs? In Asia, text messaging is key. There are tools to text message blog entries, but how do Americans who don't read Chinese, etc., use these resources?
I still believe that we need to go to the local public libraries in areas where there are large immigrant communities (Dearborn, MI; Alexandria, VA) and conduct training for the immigrants. These people use the internet to keep in touch with the situation in their native country. If we get a couple of bloggers from each session, and they talk to their friends about it, we could start a movement. I believe this would be a lot more successful than each of us adopting a country, because we still will not have access to more information than we can get using the western media-- especially if we don't speak and of the languages of the country.
Sunday, April 18, 2004
  I interupt with an announcement: my new Blog Searching article is online
Christina K. Pikas. "Trends in Blog Searching." b/ITe v.21 n.2 (D) (Mar/Apr 2004). Available online at: http://www.sla.org/division/dite/bite/MarApr2004/TrendInBlog.pdf (accessed 4/19/2004).
  BloggerConII: Librarianesque Session with Jessica Baumgart
This session was one of the main reasons I attended this event, but I'm not sure it offered much more information than it raised questions. I was glad, however, that it included many professional librarians who knew a lot about blogging. (at Computers in Libraries, it was all introduction to... no this is what I've done). The few non-librarians present (Shannon, Alicia, Bob Wyman) also made some great contributions.
Garrett Eastman of the Rowland Institute has an official library blog that talks about library info, new articles of interest to institute researchers, new resources, etc. There were others there who were considering blogs, like I am but haven't started an official one yet.
Susan Herzog of Eastern CT State U, runs a plagiarism blog as a way to present new information for her site. She can update her blog on the fly but has to go through IT for her website.
We talked also, about tone. Most blogs, we agreed were less formal than static web pages, but they don't have to be. The informality may be beneficial in forming connections with users and marketing the unique skills and services the bloggers provide. Blog posts on a community blog can be signed by the individual librarians so that connections can be made. Formal blogs as part of the overall marketing strategy (see CIL post) are valuable in offering ephemeral, timely information.
One small problem now, that will become a large problem in the future, is searching in blogs. Blog archives stack up pretty quickly. Thousands of posts before you know it, but how do you find something you know was there on that blog.... We talked, then about categorizing posts, but then if you don't use controlled categories with scope notes, etc., and you don't apply them evenly, and if you then have too many things in too broad categories... it doesn't help. Another attendee (sorry I didn't catch your name) said that she had done a project indexing a blog and found it very difficult. She suggesting that it is most similar to indexing newspapers. Others suggested that searching is getting easier, but I'm not convinced. Searching, by the way, should be broken up into types: searching for feeds (and prospective sources of information, new blogs of interest) and searching for information across blogs. My article is finally online on searching across blogs. If you're searching within a blog, the search on the site would be your first try, then perhaps using a site:yaddayaddayadda tag in a general search engine. The site searches need to be improved.
The futurist blogger, (?), had the approach of a community blog with guest editors who are experts in their fields. I really like this approach and would like to discuss with him the difference between that and having multiple blogs. Pros and Cons.
A professor from Middlebury (Barbara?)is integrating a librarian into her class blog. This opens up the library resources to her students, bravo!
In this session, like others, we contrasted the blogosphere with the e-mail listserv and forum communities. The idea is that on listservs, and in forums, there are set topics which must be observed, and there are "experts" who will provide answers. Newbies and quiet people are often flamed and then remain quiet or leave. In blogs, everyone has a voice, and comments can be deleted or ignored. Jessamyn mentioned using the link structure (and therefore reputation) to gauge the quality of blogs. Bob (from PubSub) tried to convey the faulty logic in relying on links/reputations in social networks. He's absolutely right, and when I get back to my procite files, I'll show some articles that back him up. Unfortunately, at least one listener took this as an attack on Jessamyn:
Shannon, Bitter-girl said:
Jessamyn made an interesting point about reputation-based systems' influence on citation and information selection, and this guy across the room completely shot it down...he called reputation-based systems scary, undemocratic, and entirely subject to power laws over which we have no control. In essence, he refused to believe that reputation-based systems could be beneficial in any way.

Using citations alone is not a valid way to find accurate information. Only the A-listers will be on the top of the list. I get it, and tried to tell Shannon, but I haven't seen her update her blog. Mathematically, once you've been cited, you're much more likely to be cited in the future. (keep this in mind if you cite something as an example of bad ...)
  Notes and thoughts from BloggerConII: Journalism with Jay Rosen
This was a well-attended session. About half of the attendees were professional journalists (either freelance or with big media) and most of the attendees were bloggers. I sat next to Jay Fitzgerald of the Boston Herald. Our discussion beforehand provided a little insight. I asked him whether his employer sponsored his blog, approved of it, was wary of it, or what. He said that he blogged while he was unemployed and then just continued. The Herald was cool with this because he does not blog on the topics he writes on for the paper. That way, there's less risk of someone questioning his professional writing using opinions he's expressed in his blog.
During the session, we discussed the definition of journalism (as an activity and as a profession) and the impact of blogging on journalism as well as the impact of journalism on blogging. We ended up agreeing that journalism is a profession with best practices and ethics. Journalism is gathering sources, checking facts, and drawing the results in to a coherent (hopefully less biased) account of an event or thing. Bloggers, are by definition, those who blog, or who post information in a serial format on a webpage (frequently using software that automatically adds permalinks, dates, archives, etc.). The information being posted can be journalism, but isn't necessarily so -- even if done by a professional journalist.
Many journalists enjoy blogging because it allows them to work outside their specialty (for example, a business writer who blogs on sports), be free of external editorial control, and opine on controversial topics. This can, however, open them to lawsuits from which their employer will not protect them. Bloggers mostly don't have editors to proof what they're writing but they do have the ability to correct posts or delete posts. Additionally, they have immediate feedback from readers which helps them to understand what they're covering. Blogs can become discussions between the many. They are inherently more interactive, even just with links, if not with comments.
Bloggers are inspired to become journalists when they see that their point of view or neighborhood isn't covered as they wish, they want to get their voice heard (expressed better by Chris Lydon). Bloggers can write journalistic reports from PTA meetings, or speeches they attend.
Bloggers can provide journalists with access to eyewitness accounts in areas where the journalist may not be able to go (closed meetings, political protests, foreign countries). One problem I see with this that was not really discussed, is the accuracy or even veracity of eyewitnesses. Journalists must remember that just because the blogger claims to have seen something, then ran back to a computer to type it up, doesn't mean that it happened that way or even that that person actually witnessed the event.
On the other hand, some bloggers think of themselves as journalists, but mainly as op-ed writers. Trust is important, and as a blogger and not a representative of big media with an established brand, the blogger will have to establish that trust over the course of his writing. A blogger's name is his brand. [an aside, I'll be adding information about my identity in my description, not to necessarily add authority to my site, but to help you make a decision about me]
Also, many bloggers function as editors, not as journalists. They select important coverage from different pieces of the media and then comment or critique or dispell, etc., what they read.
Finally, a teacher in the row ahead of me complained that it's really hard to train his students how evaluate what they read online. Yes, but, blogs don't make this worse. Teachers have been teaching formulas (last updated, qualifications of author, webpage address and domain...), but I contend that these do not work. For example, many of the attendees of this conference have Harvard Law addresses, but they might be posting pure opinion pieces and may not be experts in the area in which they are publishing. It's hard, but students have to learn more critical thinking skills and can't rely on applying simple rules.
  Notes and thoughts from BloggerConII: Opening Ceremonies
The room for the opening ceremonies was hot, as all the rest of the rooms were hot, but this didn't affect the good natured intelligent discussions in all the sessions throughout the day. Dave Winer opened and provided the ground rules, and then we sang the National Anthem. I was horrified to see that I was one of about 5 people standing. No respect or patriotism, everyone protesting at once, or everyone just didn't know better? It was quickly forgiven and we all headed off to our various rooms for the next session.
  Studio 360: Critic Terry Teachout Talks about Blogs
I'll be summarizing, reviewing, discussing my view of the BloggerConII conference I attended yesterday, but I heard this on the radio (90.9 WETA) this morning. The show was all about criticism but the interesting thing was Terry Teachout's defense of professional critics and amateurs blogging criticism. The host, Kurt Andersen, asked the standard questions about publishing unedited work without the benefit of second thoughts and also the question about amateurs publishing poor work en masse. Teachout replied that the posts can be and are corrected. He likes to correct his work and leave the original up to show the progression of thought. He also believes that the blogosphere is tremendously important right now because there's less and less fine art criticism on tv and in magazines. He thought that amateurs have a lot to add to the conversation and praises their efforts. This works well with what we discussed in the journalism section of BloggerConII.
Friday, April 16, 2004
  The New York Times > Technology > Circuits > Incoming: Letters to the Editor
4/15/04 Nice, quick letter to the editor from Gary (scroll down). Pointed out by Steven. I posted a comment about this same article here, but my point of view is basically that there is still a need for print reference works. Serendipity, but also scanning a section, bringing information on the road, referring while you're preparing an online document (it's a real pain to flip windows back and forth constantly between three reference sources when you could just spread them around you on the desk)
  BloggerCon II
I'm definitely going, catching a plane this afternoon. The librarian session is what I'm particularly interested in, although the business and journalistic aspects of blogging should be of interest, too. I wish I'd seen that they needed a leader for a science blog sooner, I would have volunteered. I hope it's not too late to submit essays, either, although I have no idea when I'd write one. Too bad I don't have a laptop for the plane ride!
Thursday, April 15, 2004
"PRIMO, formerly known as the Internet Education Project (IEP), is a means to promote and share peer-reviewed instructional materials created by librarians to teach people about discovering, accessing and evaluating information in networked environments. The Committee hopes that publicizing selective, high quality resources will help librarians to respond to the educational challenges posed by still emerging digital technologies."
I can't remember if I knew about this or not. Looks cool. Reminded of it by Peter Scott.
  New features to this blog
I had a little success with my knitting blog so now I'm adding a couple of features here. See below how you can comment. Also, theoretically, if people start linking to me, that will show up in Technorati. Pointed out by Steven, figured out by SnowDeal.
Tuesday, April 13, 2004
  The Killing Fields: Copyright Law and its Challengers
Discussed by J.D. Lasica on the link above, mentioned by Gillmor.
Picked up by Topix Technology feed.
The creator of this film has a small business in New Jersey that creates trailers for the internet. They are his own work, but of course show short clips. When Disney sent a cease-and-desist order, he fought back. This is his short video.
  Recent popular media stuff on search engines
NPR's Morning Edition has a series of stories this week about search engines, their history, and the current industry. With all the recent news about Yahoo's new search and the slow disappearance of all of Google's competitors, this seems like a good time for more popular media discussion. I waited until I could listen to yesterday's issue before blogging, though, because there have been a lot of out of date stories recently. While a bit simple, this one still seems to be pretty good.
Monday, April 12, 2004
  washingtonpost.com - Live Online: Copyright in the Digital Age w/Lessig
Lawrence Lessig will be the guest on Washington Post Live Online on 4/14 at 1 p.m. ET. Questions are currently being accepted, so you may want to go ahead and submit what you have, because his hour will be used up quickly.
Friday, April 09, 2004
  The New York Times: Looking It Up, No Keyboard Required
"WHEN I became a parent, I didn't realize my duties would include being a walking, talking reference book. "
Thank you Ms. Slatalla for understanding the importance of print reference books in serendipitous finds and alphabetization. One good thing hinted at in the article but not explicitly stated is that the kid's first answer is to "look it up." Curiosity, willingness to learn, understanding of how to find answers....
  The New York Times:Technology:Circuits:Block That Ringtone!
by Sam Lubell 4/8/04
..."companies and researchers developing or already selling devices that render cellphones inoperable in certain locations. Methods include jammers that interfere with cellphone frequencies, routing systems that mute phones' ringers in specific places, sensors that detect active cellphones and building materials that block cellphone waves."
Sounds like something to build into new library design. Well, there are some emergencies when you need a cell phone on. Wouldn't it be nice if people just silenced their phones in libraries, movies, etc?
Monday, April 05, 2004
  IEEE obtains revised ruling removing gov't restrictions on papers from authors in embargoed countries
via IEEE press release received in e-mail 4/05/04
I can see where the original ruling came from, but that doesn't mean it made sense. Basically, the scientific publishers based in the US could accept articles for publication from authors in embargoed countries like Iran, but could not edit them, even for typos. This really doesn't make sense, because encouraging publication and freedom of communication in these countries is key. Plus, it would be helpful to encourage these scientists to travel to conferences... especially if we think they might like it better here.

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This is my blog on library and information science. I'm into Sci/Tech libraries, special libraries, personal information management, sci/tech scholarly comms.... My name is Christina Pikas and I'm a librarian in a physics, astronomy, math, computer science, and engineering library. I'm also a doctoral student at Maryland. Any opinions expressed here are strictly my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer or CLIS. You may reach me via e-mail at cpikas {at} gmail {dot} com.

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Christina Kirk Pikas

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