So is walk-up access doable anymore?

(by Christina Pikas) Mar 13 2016

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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Search as Conversation

(by Christina Pikas) Mar 11 2016

Not a new idea but seemingly ignored by research databases, no?

I just read: Beyond algorithms: Optimizing the search experience. Making search smarter through better human-computer interaction. by Daniel Tunkelang (yes, I am turning into his fan girl, but it's because he does have interesting things to say!) posted in October 2015.

I immediately wanted to bookmark, tweet, e-mail, print and waive it around... yes, this.

Some search tools - like Google and supposedly* like Siri with whatever lies beneath - do take a series of queries together to try to answer a bigger question.

Our databases do have facets. Some also have type ahead or auto suggest but the results are often hilarious and are not using query understanding techniques but just matching terms off a frequency list.

The one search box but then segment the experience - I think this is where bento is trying to go... but doesn't really? We can for sure do better.

Anyway. Read the blog post.


*my Siri has gotten stupider. It really has. It used to provide better results.

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Thoughts on alternatives to Sci-Hub

(by Christina Pikas) Mar 10 2016

There have been a lot of blog posts, news pieces, and listserv comments about Sci-Hub. Some have said that while they know it is wrong, they feel scientists have been forced into using the system because they have no alternatives for access. Some responses have been on the order of: we asked our favorite scientists at big US research institutions and they say they have access to everything they need so why don't you? or We give away articles to the very poorest of countries (who might not even be able to take advantage of because poor connectivity), so that should be enough (what about the middle range countries?). Or you make a lot of money and your university has an endowment, you surely can afford this journal and you're just stealing! Or Jean Valjean didn't have access to bread, either, but that didn't mean stealing was right!

Others have repeatedly countered the whole difference between stealing things (bread) and making copies that do not diminish the original (if possibly the market for it).

Anyhoo, what I really want to talk about here is the alternatives for closed access articles. Probably not an exhaustive list.

  • licensed access through your institution as part of a site-wide subscription (on campus, or via VPN/proxy from off)
  • interlibrary loan
  • license your own copy ($30-75)
  • individual subscription (through a society or just from the publisher)
  • "rent" access to view a copy for 24 hours
  • find copies self archived in institutional and disciplinary repositories, on their websites, and other random places
  • find copies illegally shared as part of course materials for another course (this happens for stuff I'm looking for pretty regularly, actually, particularly chapters from social sciences books)
  • contact author for copy
  • contact buddy, relative, etc., at another university to request
  • use walk up access at a local public university
  • use #icanhazpdf
  • use Sci-Hub

So let's look at hassle factor. Part of what goes into figuring out the hassle factor is how you identified the article in the first place and what network you're on.

At MPOW if you use Google Scholar or PubMed and you're on our network, you should be able to go right to the full text for the majority of things you're looking for because we have a lot of subscriptions. We have our IPs registered with Google so it points to our subscriptions and our link resolver. If you use our link resolver, it fills out the ILL form for you from there. Still, it is more convenient to get a pdf from/through Google than wait for ILL or for us to scan and e-mail you something.

What if you're off campus? A quick check of #icanhazpdf showed some people were asking because they were off campus. That, to me, seems like the height of laziness and inconsideration. Does their campus really have no remote access? The person who is sending it to you has to go through more effort than it would take you to VPN or use EZProxy.

One commentator heard from someone who does have access at work but couldn't be assed to use the library tools to locate it. Really? So the search on Sci-Hub doesn't work (I'm told) so the best way to use it is through the doi. I can put the doi of an article into my FindIt tool and get a proxied link to the best source for full text immediately - even if it's at a 3rd party aggregator. Legally. I can also put the PMID in. In fact, I have a plugin in my browser that automatically links the DOI to my link resolver.

Ok, so you may not be at an organization that has all this set up. There are lots of industrial and government scientists who have very little access to the literature. Even if they do have access, they might not have the connecting tools.

In many places ILL is awful. Let's be quite honest. Another form. Asks a lot of information. May have a different login. May take 2-3 weeks to arrive. It may be fax quality. May be a cost associated. In one sociology class I was in as a student they were going off on how bad it was: wrong article, missed several pages, illegible copies... the one guy put his request in like 5 times before getting a full, readable copy. He kept putting it in after a while to see how many tries it would take! Your buddies on Twitter do not have to print, scan to fax quality, and then send.

I love how people say you can use your local publib. Mine is not going to ill for scholarly articles for you. They don't have that kind of budget or staff. I think it's getting harder to use walk up access, too. If you have eduroam you can get on the network but if you're at a local small business? It's not like when the journals were in print.

I don't even know where I was going with this but to say that #icanhaspdf has a point. Library systems need to get easier and get in the workflow, but also scholars might actually need to put some effort in to learn to do things the right way.

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Who do I want to rescue me?

(by Christina Pikas) Mar 09 2016

DM has continued a meme - who do you want to rescue you?

These are not ranked, necessarily:

  1. Dr. Who
  2. Paw Patrol
  3. Mark Watney
  4. the guys in the Scott Lynch books (all both men and women, not just Locke)
  5. Kvothe


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Bots, Mixed Initiative, and Virtual Personal Assistants

(by Christina Pikas) Feb 13 2016

I've been trying to write this post for a while but am finally just throwing my hands up about having an well-done oeuvre to just get the thing done.

When I saw Daniel Tunkelang's brief post on virtual assistants I was like, oh, that again. But there were some links and doing my usual syntopic reading I fell into the rabbit hole a bit.

Used to be that computer science was like "automate all the things." More automated, more better. Bates (1990) was all like wait a minute here, there are some things it makes sense to hand off and others it makes sense for the human to do. People do some things faster. People learn and explore and think by doing.  People need to control certain things in their environment. But other things are a hassle or can be easily done by a computer. What you don't want to do is to make the effort of supervising the automation so arduous that you're trading one hassle for another.

For quite a few years, there has been an area of research called "mixed initiative" that looks specifically at things like virtual assistants and automating where it makes sense without overburdening the user. As I was dabbling in this area a couple of years ago, I read some articles. It seemed weird to me, though, because I think most knowledge workers my age or younger probably don't know how to work with a living human assistant. I have never worked anywhere with a secretary who offloaded work from me. Never worked somewhere with someone to help me schedule meetings, type out correspondence, format articles, do my travel stuff, etc. I have been on teams with deliverables that were sent through an editor - but that was like a special technical writer. I suppose I would have to negotiate with an assistant what I would want him or her to do and then accept (within boundaries) that they might do things differently than I do. I would have to train them. Should I expect more of a virtual assistant?

All of this is in the back of my head when I started following the links.

So what do they mean by virtual assistants - they're hot, but what are they doing and do they work?

Scheduling meetings

  • Meekan is, apparently, a bot that takes an informal request within Slack and negotiates with other calendars to make an appointment.
  • is similar but you cc Amy (a bot, but I like that she has a name), and she takes on the negotiation for you.

Project/Team Management (loosely construed)

  • Howdy will get feedback from team members and also take lunch orders. Seems sort of like some things I saw baked into Basecamp when I saw a demo. It's in Slack, too.
  • Awesome helps manage teams on Slack.


Travel, Shopping, ...

  • Assist does a few different things like travel and shopping.

General but often operating a device

  • Siri
  • Cortana
  • Amazon Alexa
  • Google Now (sorta)
  • Facebook M

A lot of us don't want to talk to our assistant, but to text them. One of the articles pointed to this.


When I talked to engineers back in the day about their personal information management, there were a lot of things they were doing themselves that it just seemed like they should be able to offload to someone who is paid less (Pikas, 2007). Likewise, I was talking to a very senior scientist who was spending hours trying to get his publications to be right on the external site. Even though statements are routinely made to the contrary, it seems like work is pushed off from overhead/enterprise/admin to the actual mission people - the scientists and engineers - in an attempt to lower overhead. It pushes money around, sure, but it doesn't solve the goal. So here's an idea, if we really, really, really aren't going to bring back more overhead/enterprise/admin folks, are there bots we can build in to our systems to ease the load?

If Slackbot watches you and asks you personal questions: isn't that cute. If Microsoft does: evil, die, kill with fire. If your employer does: yuck?



Bates, M. J. (1990). Where should the person stop and the information search interface start. Information Processing & Management, 26(5), 575-591. doi:10.1016/0306-4573(90)90103-9

Pikas, C. K. (2007). Personal Information Management Strategies and Tactics used by Senior Engineers. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, Milwaukee, WI. , 44 paper 14.

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ASIST to ALA: Can we play? Why are you only about Librarians?

(by Christina Pikas) Feb 13 2016

Library schools have forever been about school, academic, public, and special libraries (law, medical, corporate, and others). They've also been about archives and records management. When library schools started to get more into training other sorts of "information professionals," they broadened their names to include various sorts of "information." More recently, there has been the iSchool movement which defines itself more broadly. iSchools include some schools that do not even offer an ALA accredited MLS (or MLIS or MSLIS, etc) - the traditional librarian degree either because they dropped it or because they never had it.  Even iSchools that offer the MLS, like Maryland (affiliated but not speaking for them), have branched out to new degrees that require some of the same libr* skills but are not for librarians and are not ALA accredited. They are simply different degrees. Maryland - just used as an example because I know it - offers a MIM (master of information management) and an HCIM (master of human-computer interaction). The MIM graduate at work is an information architect and head of the usability team.

Well. Many people know about ALA because it's so massive and so political. Fewer people know about ASIST. ASIST has always drawn information people who are not strictly dealing with libraries. Information retrieval, bibliometrics, visualization, and other areas. It's more library school and now iSchool researchers and many fewer practitioners although from time to time they do make a big push to be more welcoming to practitioners (practical application papers are not accepted very often).

Most  professional librarian jobs require an ALA accredited MLS. The accreditation committee has increasingly shown concern over the move away from libraries by the iSchools. For example, in some schools, all of the routine how-to-be-an-actual-librarian classes are now taught by adjuncts because there aren't any qualified faculty. A class on cataloging, for example. Pretty important! The ALA accredited degree is specifically to show that the school meets the requirements from a professional library association - for librarians, who often work in libraries doing library stuff.

ASIST, has come out with a statement that is basically like hey, lots of our members have nothing to do with libraries and ALA is being mean to require in their accreditation that the school do all sorts of library stuff. Here's a quote.

It is imperative that accreditation standards be comprehensive and flexible enough to accurately represent educational requirements in multiple information fields, both in and outside of libraries, archives, and other longstanding information organizations. Accreditation must reflect the eclectic, diverse and pluralistic nature of the information field and must be fully applicable to an array of information professions. As a result, we call for the ongoing dialog between ALA and ASIS&T on accreditation issues.

Dorothea Salo (erstwhile blogger here at Scientopia), a faculty member at an iSchool supports this although she is not fond of ASIST (as I am, by the way). I believe her thinking is of the lines that library school is more about approaches, broad skills, and professionalization and can't and shouldn't teach all the nitpicky details that vary from place to place and change quickly over time. (like you didn't teach me to program in Python even though I went to library school before it was invented! you didn't teach me how to install this catalog software!).

With all of that said, I say to ASIST buzz off and butt out. Seriously. If they want to do their own accreditation (when they can't even agree on what we do or who we are), fine. ALA has no obligation to really include them at all. It makes sense that ALA at least talk to ALISE members - those are the library science educators - to coordinate big changes. Probably ASIST members who care about this are in ALISE anyway.

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What's old is new again

(by Christina Pikas) Feb 10 2016

Everybody's back starting up an online community for their publishing platform. IEEE with Collabratec. ACS with ChemWorx. Science has one, too.

Seems like everyone did this 15 years ago. The only difference now seems to be the addition of authoring tools. We'll see.

(I posted about ChemWorx before)

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Defense slides

(by Christina Pikas) Jan 30 2016

Took me a bit - I forgot to upload them to SlideShare until just now. I did pass with revisions to be approved by my advisor.

I have to tell you that it was really anticlimactic. I thought it would be a big weight off my shoulders and I would feel free and I would have minor quibbles but lots of pats on the back... but... well... I don't know.  This massive framework o' mine? The communications prof thought it was exactly the same as Shannon and Weaver (1948). Wow.

At least when I do these edits I can get on with writing up other work I've done and then prepping pieces of this for publication. So, really, no less work, but different.

I do fully intend to make this freely available with creative commons attribution and all that. The whole dissertation. I am going to do the revisions first, though, because some are pretty big.

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How to get unbound by non-forward thinking users...

(by Christina Pikas) Jan 16 2016

Last post I described a system that was stuck by its own commitment to user-driven development. They're really stuck. So what are possible ways out? Particularly for a government system?

I really don't know and particularly for a government system but that doesn't mean I can't think about it.

One thought was that maybe they need to make their case more clearly. How could they describe the projects better to make them more attractive in the rankings? This is probably impossible and maybe even insulting as they probably tried very hard to get their point across in the past. They seemed frustrated. Of course, they could hire a consultant to tell them exactly what they already knew - some people will listen to consultants.

I was wondering if acquisition rules would allow them to set aside like 20% or something to do their projects - ones that they thought were best but not necessarily voted on by the users. This would work for things that were less expensive to do or could be piloted.

Part of the problem is that the system may need to be re-architected and might need major redesign. Some of the pieces can be kept, but need to be integrated. That would have to wait for the next major version. Maybe if their key software underneath has to be upgraded, they could use that as a reason to do some things?

Sigh. I don't know. It sure is easier just to dream of a cool system.

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When listening to the users may not be the best thing

(by Christina Pikas) Jan 16 2016

At work we evaluated the fitness of one large collaboration platform for use for another group. The government was already funding this one big thing and it made sense to see if it could be leveraged instead of starting from scratch even though the potential user groups are extremely different.

The system we evaluated was carefully designed with lots of input from user groups, by well meaning, competent people, using best practices from the field. GAO has fussed at them a few times over the years for the same things they always pick up on and there are always questions about if their system is used enough and how and what contracts they have let and for how much. They have a roadmap for development that is carefully developed in coordination with the users and they use agile development with frequent small releases and quarterly larger releases. There's lots of training available both ad hoc, recorded, and live as well as in person presentations at conferences and the like.  They have a bunch of case studies in which the system has had a pivotal role in supporting collaboration and solving a difficult problem for the users.

Sounds great, right? The only thing is that the actual system is pretty ugly and not all that functional - certainly not what we had been designing with our ambitious state of the art system. We asked about things like how access control is done, how information is organized and retrieved, how content management is done, what the portal does, how it supports communication and collaboration... all fell very far short of our expectations. How could this be? We were looking at current features in products on the market - we even looked at products they have.

In my opinion (not anyone else's), it's all about their users and their governance. They have proposed many of the things we want in our system and their users de-prioritize all of them and do not chose to fund them. You see, a lot is needed for really good content discovery - there's a lot of infrastructure, which is invisible to the user (see Star's stuff on infrastructure). There's a lot of humans developing and training information organization schemes and building ways to ingest and process information such that search works. There are the policy requirements in a federated system like this to allow these various repositories to be searched. There's ongoing maintenance and user testing and ranking and boosting and troubleshooting for even a decent search to work, not to mention the full content discovery.

So the professionals propose projects to work on these things and improve them, but the users - who are expert in an ENTIRELY different area - are not getting it and are not trusting the professionals. And money is always limited. So the communication pieces aren't integrated. There's not fine role based access control. There's no way to search across various things... But their users are happy and are getting EXACTLY what they asked for.

So how do you design a governance system and development for a massive collaboration system such that it is user-based and need-based, but you still can fund infrastructure work needed to provide the functions for the users. I don't know. We laid off our taxonomist because management thought our search tool did all that itself - it doesn't.  Clearly we don't know how to make the case, either.

Is there hope? If the two systems are joined, might the developers leverage our information to force some of these improvements? Dunno.

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