Archive for the 'libraries' category

Data point on if we need expensive specialty research databases

Aug 17 2017 Published by under information retrieval, libraries

***NOTE: Not endorsing any commercial products***

A search for "quantum computing" in the Abstract, Title, Keywords in Scopus yields 6,415 records

A search for DE (quantum computing) in Inspec yields 20,403.   By DE I mean descriptor - "quantum computing" has been in Inspec's thesaurus since 1999. Use the correct formatting for your platform.

One really quick insight: US is top publisher in Scopus and China is in Inspec.

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What *are* guides for?

Apr 17 2017 Published by under finding information, libraries of all flavors have these things that gather together resources on a topic for their users/patrons/customers. In a huge portion of academic libraries, these are database driven lists of online resources managed by a web content management system separate from the rest of their web page. Other libraries do these on blog software or their regular web content management system.

These things have been around forever, from mimeographed or even typeset bibliographies available as handouts to these web things.  The old thinking was the only people who learned from guides were their creators. But that's not fair. They can be a real lifesaver if you find the perfect one that addresses your need when you actually need it.

Obviously, that's also the major problem: What to include, what to say about the things that are included, and how to get the guide where it's needed, when it's needed? Of course there have been a million studies and there are best practices but you do see a lot of variety in the wild.

Some guides are for classes in response to a particular assignment so are targeted. A lot of guides are for entire fields of study: physics, geosciences (not even breaking atmospheric sciences from geology), etc.  In certain fields there are standard tasks students have to deal with like in business, industry and company research. There are basic steps to be taken and for each step, there is a preferred resource.

How about those general guides? What to include, in what order, with what verbiage? No point in writing too much if it causes the guide not to be read. Yet you want to really make the point of exactly in which situations that resource will help and how it can be used most efficiently.

Or maybe not for that last part - tips and tricks can go on a blog and in classes or demonstrations.  If you get the chance... and if you can get that training opportunity to the people when and where they need it.

On LSW there was some discussion about this recently and a member brought up a screenshot of a famously poor guide that, if printed, would have been 36 feet long at 75 dpi. Another guide had 38 tabs (basically menu across the top in this software everyone uses) and many of the tabs had dropdown menus.

At MPOW we have to have ours on SharePoint and we are not actually allowed to edit or design them... but I really, really think these database driven ones are often not the best information design to get the point across. I mean, there's no way to keep up with the URLs if you hand code something but at the same time, it's really awkward to try to make various pieces of content stand out. It's often difficult to embed training information, tips, and links to these things. In addition, resources are often listed in alphabetical order which may not really make sense depending on what they are.

For my news guide, I went off the rails and have it divided differently: by time, by location, by topic.  But I don't actually know that ours are any use, either.  Theoretically our pages were tested and users were able to "find an e-book" (they weren't asked to find a particular ebook, mind you)

My professor for my business reference class made a point of saying how guides (and training) should be problem oriented... So maybe, we should leave the lists of resources to the A-Z lists (with topic tags?) and guides should be reworked to be problem based? We do try to make our training problem based not just here's-a-laundry-list... but alas....


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Focusing on counts erodes research libraries' competitiveness

Dec 05 2016 Published by under Collection Development, libraries

by @glennobleFor many years, research libraries (mainly those in academic institutions but also in other research centers) have been all about counting collections: how many volumes owned? how many journals licensed? Bigger is better. Millions of volumes.

This pressure, combined with continual downward budgetary pressure and the global doubling of scientific output every nine years, has led to most libraries taking some short cuts to get more coverage (more volume and more volumes). In place of carefully curated abstracting and indexing services necessarily specific to certain domains of knowledge that help explore and identify sources of information but do not provide physical access, many libraries are licensing massive collections from Eb and PQ that hugely boost the numbers. They are also licensing these massive "discovery" systems that, in my opinion, completely fail to improve discovery. We librarians have told our vendors that our most important users are the undergraduates who need any few articles on a topic to quickly pad their bibliography.  Vendor offerings that make that process easier are welcomed.  So we cancel Inspec, Biosis, GEOBASE and similar to feed the beast of more and more content. The vendors who provide access to formerly very useful databases (cough Aerospace cough) more or less eviscerate them to also give more - higher counts, faster, broader... and cheaper (no - lol - never cheaper for *libraries*)

Yet, as everyone has said before me, we are living in times of information abundance not scarcity. We know we cannot survive with the library-as-pocketbook model. Some of our value comes in working with users as partners in their research. We work to understand what their information problem entails and to help them (teach, do for, or provide tools for them to) find the information they need. We should also be building and licensing systems for the most sophisticated of users on our faculties and in our research centers. We should strive for precision and also serendipity of unexpected very relevant articles. We should save the time of the reader. What value millions of responses to a web query if your answer is on page 10? New researchers should be taught to be more sophisticated in their searching (I honestly think chemistry may be the only field that does this well), instead of accepting good enough or random iteration around the theme.

The best services and tools respect the researcher's precious time. They help the researcher have better information more quickly and with more context and confidence.  This is the way we compete with the ubiquity of information freely available on the internet. It's something we do and something we can do quite well... but we need to stop these collections processes now before it's too late.


*These are my opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of my immediate organization or my parent institution. Any specific products are mentioned to clarify my meaning. No endorsement should be inferred.

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So is walk-up access doable anymore?

Mar 13 2016 Published by under libraries

A trackback to my previous posts on ways to get literature  discussed the authors inquiries to German universities about walk-up access. Walk-up access is just that, a non-affiliated person showing up in person at a library and having access to their subscriptions. The vast majority of our licenses do actually allow walk-up. Of the STEM things, the main outlier is SciFinder (Chemical Abstracts). It does not allow walk-up.

Thing is, I work in a research lab and in 2009 we moved behind the barrier so we do not have any place unaffiliated people can use our access. So I really haven't kept up with how hard or easy it is for people who are actually able to physically visit a research library.

I asked on one of the current incarnations of LSW (Library Society of the World) on Mokum. The responses were a pleasant surprise. Most had easy walk-up access. Some had computers that didn't require a login whereas others provided short term logins. Printing can be paid for in cash.

One of NYC librarians said her library charged people to get access to the building at all! Clearly not a land grant institution. Another librarian is in a place where there have been multiple shootings in the actual library building. Completely understandable that they are locked down now.

Overall, at least this access does still seem possible for people who live somewhat near a research institution, particularly if it's a public university.

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The crazy trip of one aerospace trade pub

Jan 08 2016 Published by under Collection Development, libraries

Aviation Week (& Space Technology) is celebrating 100 years in print in 2016. To celebrate (and advertise Boeing), they are making their archive freely available in 2016 (registration required for some f/t) (via Gary Price).

This is shocking really. This publication has been super important AND super expensive over my time as an engineering librarian in an aerospace organization. I've used the print archives to come up with open source documentation of various launch pad accidents, details of missile production, and other news.

We had a print archive going back to about 1962 in our library. In 2009 when we had to move out and ditch our collection I argued to keep this - of all of our bound journals - because at the time there was no affordable alternative. Well, I was out the day one of the jobbers came and apparently took it all anyway. An accident, I was told. So we did without for a while, using the embargoed access that gave us a few years through a major aggregator.

Still, just about every year we asked for a quote from McG-H and the pricing was like 5 digits for a single user with a login and password. It wasn't something we could really do.

Then a couple of years ago it was bought by Penton Media. You may know them from all of the "free to qualified recipients" trade pubs they have. They offered the database - the Intelligence Network - to us large-institution wide for less than a single login had been. We jumped on it.

Now, this year, free. I guess it won't be free after 2016? Has the quality changed? Dunno.

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Slides from Leveraging Data to Lead

Nov 20 2015 Published by under bibliometrics, Conferences, libraries

This was a great conference put on by Maryland SLA. I tweeted at bit using the hashtag: #datamdsla

Here's my slides. Not awesome but I did find some nice pictures 🙂


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So long old friend: Cancelling Dialog

Aug 14 2015 Published by under Collection Development, libraries

Ever since being required to learn it in Library School, I've been a fan of Dialog. The interface had all the power and precision an expert searcher needed. The idea that there were nearly a thousand databases that I didn't have to subscribe to individually or even really know about in advance was awesome. It was easy to get nervous about racking up a bill because you paid by time and things you looked at but you could figure out costs in advance. There were tools, too, to identify the appropriate database for a search or to cross search databases.

Blue sheets for each database made its structure explicit and you could go from one to the next and quickly make sense of them to decide how to modify your search. Now, with years of trying to be more like Google and concentrating resources on an undergrad audience, it's all mystery meat. If you read the instructions for a database you can maybe eventually figure it out, but not like the olden days.

So if I love it so much, why are we cancelling it?  Well, the Dialog I describe is not the current one. Now it's got the mystery meat interface that looks the same as all PQ products. All of the weird and wild and unique research databases are gone. They have maybe a tenth of what they used to have in Sci/Tech and they're basically all the ones I have already through a native interface or elsewhere on PQ or Ebscohost, etc. I don't really blame PQ because it's more a function of corporations slashing library budgets.

So not the content I need. Power is gone (or hidden). Big cutbacks in service (but I hadn't really noticed that because of the content changes). And we had to do something like a deposit account which no one likes - at all.  I believe we had to tell them in advance how much we wanted to spend in a year to get a discount.  Honestly, I haven't used it for a while. Every time I think to, I find the database I wanted is no longer there or I have a version on another platform.

So sad.

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Notes from a presentation on library spaces by Keith Webster

Jun 03 2015 Published by under libraries

My larger place of work (the major research institution of which my lab is a part) has an annual assembly of library folks from all the various libraries and hospital libraries. We almost always have interesting speakers. This year we had Keith Webster, the Dean of University Libraries at Carnegie Mellon University. I hope he will put his slides on SlideShare as the pictures are important for understanding his meaning. I tweeted some key points - as fast as I could on my phone.  I'll incorporate those here with some remembered details and minor edits of typos:


For STEM, we have been successful in getting most of the stuff they want online. When they come in, it's to complain that something isn't working or they couldn't figure out how to get what they want

I found this point to be obvious, but important. If you think of what we do with scientists who leave now and them donating papers and computers and disks and whatnot to archives... And historians of science and even people with IP disputes looking through these... What happens when these working papers and data are distributed through new cloud services, each with (or without) its own preservation strategy? There's no automatic institutional access or backup if something happens to the scientist.

This is also obvious but important. I think with the informationist and embedding models we're getting at this. We aren't really about policing access to physical collections (if we ever were). Connecting people to information has to be as a partner in the research and teaching enterprise.

He then went through generations of spaces. The first was basically the monks and books chained to desks. Then there were closed stacks and reading rooms. Then open stacks but still mediated by librarians. ....

Somewhere in here more things started to be moved to offsite storage for more computers in more places and staff being moved around. First it was less used, then it was basically everything.

He had a great picture for this. It was better than this picture:

More should be said about the roving. When they disestablished the reference desk, they had librarians roving to answer questions. The students did. not. like. at all. They felt like they were being followed and tracked. So the library stopped the service after a matter of weeks.

Also a neat point. As the classrooms are "flipped" and education has gone from lecture mode with exams to project based and group work based, the library needs to update its support. Instead of a single session at the beginning of the semester, it's partnership throughout. From what I hear from my academic colleagues, they have mostly done this already as long as the faculty will let them.

I still think this is a valid question for us to ask. Why should the library provide unattended study space with no books? Should that be student services or someone else? He said that their surveys consistently showed that the students wanted this service from the library. The library was known as a place to support serious work.

Seriously - when you're there for 8 hours and you can't leave your stuff because it will be stolen... Food? Lockers? Nicer potties? Sleeping space?

This is what they wanted: Qantas first class lounge Sydney 1

Another valid question: why should the libraries provide maker spaces? The disciplines provide them but often have higher quality industrial machines with lots more training needed. They may not be open to dabblers. The library is a neutral ground where historians can model artifacts, etc.

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Ebook Explosion

Dec 17 2014 Published by under Information Science, libraries, Uncategorized

Seems like all the publishers and all the societies are trying to get into the eBook game. The newest announcement is from AAS (using IOP as a publisher). Considering the fact that a lot of these domains are not particularly known for monographs - like Computer Science and ACM's new ebook line - but instead for conference proceedings and journal articles, seems kinda weird.

Someone mentioned that maybe it was due to the ebook aggregator demand driven acquisition plans - but I think it's just the opposite. Many major publishers have jacked up prices (pdf) on EBL and Ebrary recently - all to push libraries in to licensing "big deal" bundles of the entire front list or entire subject categories. And it is super attractive to buy from the publishers because they're often without DRM, PDFs (one big publisher even offers a whole book in a single pdf, most are one pdf per chapter), ways to view online, easily findable using Google and also nice MARC records for adding to the catalog.

The ebook aggregators have nasty DRM. They have concurrent user rules. They have special rules for things that are considered textbooks.  We have to login with our enterprise login (which isn't my lab's day-to-day login) and the data about what books we view is tied to our identities. The new prices end up being as much as 30-40% of the cover price for a 1 day loan. That's right. The customer can look and maybe print a couple of pages for 24 hours and the library is charged a third the cover price of the book.

But for the society and publisher own pages, what seems like a one time purchase has now become yet another subscription. If you buy the 2014 front list will you not feel the pressure to buy the 2015 and 2016 publications?

Aggregators had seemed like some of the answer, but not so much with these prices. We've already mugged all the other budgets for our journal habit so where do these new things come from? The print budget was gone ages ago. Reference budget was also raided.  The ones we've licensed do get used a lot at MPOW.

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Mom always said: Clean as you go

Jul 31 2014 Published by under libraries

But do we listen? Not so much.

Turns out MPOW (a division of a larger institution) has not deleted *any* borrower records since we merged into the larger institution's catalog maybe 10 years ago. We used to have our own catalog back in the day. No idea how much we maintained that stuff either - last time I did a dump from it to create an electronic badge-scanning sign-in system for an open house - we had users with the names "brontosaurus", "washington, george", "gibson, r.e." (which you won't get unless you know more about where I work, well and he's been dead for a couple of decades).  I think the professionals who ran the larger system helped us clean up a bit on migration.

So here we are, ready to integrate further with automatic registration and maintenance of records and we figured we should probably clean up prior. Oy.

Turns out in Sirsi Dynix Horizon, you have to identify the borrower and *edit* their record to have the option to delete. It was always grayed out for us because we didn't think about having it open for editing first. All this time we've been getting notices of employee actions, but have done nothing. We used to be a required stop on the employee checkout list but they took us off when we got rid of our print collection.

Now, how to match current employees? I can get a list but the export from Horizon shows how poorly we did data entry when creating the accounts. Some have the whole name in various orders in the last name field. Some have that with periods in it. There's a name of a university there (why?). E-mails missing, employee numbers missing, obsolete borrower types. People who have joint appointments with other divisions of the larger institution who have these weird hybrid records.

At first pass with a short R script, I identified 500 records of the 3500 that need to be checked. And that was only using last names so if there are 10 bad Smiths for the one good Smith, then they get a pass. I'm sure we'll get exception reports or something at the load, but we're trying to get ahead of the game.

So kids: do as your mom told you and CLEAN AS YOU GO!

No doubt I will continue not to heed this advice, either 🙂

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