Thursday, July 29, 2010

Brief note on article about research assignments (link to post on Alchemical Thoughts)

First, the rant: Another day, another crappy day using Blogger. As if things were not bad enough (it would not save the draft I typed originally. I honestly do not know what's up with the "save, won't save" nonsense), apparently when you type it in MS Word (especially newer versions of Word), the process injects all sorts of XML bullshit into the code that Blogger does not recognize. This naturally drives the system nuts, and I have to either spend time going through the code to remove it or just post the item elsewhere and link it here (assuming of course this gets through). Thank you Mr. effing bastard Bill Gates for making your software more invasive, bloated, and annoying than it has to be. Thus endeth the rant.

You can find the actual post with my thoughts on a recent piece out of The Chronicle of Higher Education over here. Apologies to my two readers for making you jump another hoop.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

It's just reader's advisory

This article on "The Fine Art of Recommending Books" by Laura Miller, writing for Salon magazine, is basically describing what a good librarian skilled in reader's advisory does: match a reader with books that meet the reader's needs. We ask questions; we assess the reader's tastes and mood to find the next read, and we sometimes may do a bit of research to find it (be it online or from a guidebook for instance). We do it in a way that is more personal and thoughtful than any online algorithm. I would say it is a skill and an art. The article also highlights librarian extraordinaire Nancy Pearl. I think the only thing Ms. Miller left out is actual recommendation websites such as Library Thing and GoodReads (this is the one I use personally to keep track of my reading). Sure, she mentioned Amazon's robots, but that is just not the same. Many online communities now exist for readers to share their books and reading experiences in more relaxed settings. Still, an interesting little piece worth a look. I think I would use it also as springboard to promote what we librarians already do.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Article Note: On Read/Write Web and Online Research

I drafted the piece over on the scratch pad, Alchemical Thoughts. You can find it here. You can comment there or here. Apparently Blogger can't handle anything longer than three sentences.

The citation for the article:

Houghton-Jan, Sarah, Amanda Etches-Johnson, and Aaron Schmidt, "The Read/Write Web and the Future of Library Research." Journal of Library Administration 49.4 (2009): 365-382.

Read via Interlibrary Loan.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Article Note: On electronic biomedical resources, other than MEDLINE

Citation for the article:

Pickett, Keith M., "Reaching Beyond MEDLINE: A Beginner's Overview of Electronic Biomedical Resources." Journal of Hospital Librarianship 8.4 (2008): 398-410.

Read via Interlibrary Loan.

The article is basically a short overview of some electronic resources, both for pay and free, that are relevant to those in the health sciences. Why would you be interested in some of these resources? The article gives some reasons:

  • MEDLINE does not index everything. For example, it misses things like books, book chapters, and a grey literature.
  • MEDLINE "practices 'selective indexing,' in which only a percentage of articles from some journals are indexed and some journals are not indexed at all" (M. Knapp, qtd. in 399).
  • Also, different databases use different systems of controlled vocabulary. For example, PsycInfo (APA's product) uses its own Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms. You can get additional relevant results if you are able to learn how to take advantage of thesauri and subject terms in a database.
I am just going to highlight the free resources for reference purposes:
  • BioMed Central ( This is a open-access publisher with a portfolio of 208 peer reviewed journals. Most of the material is freely available. In other words, according to the website's "About" page, all the research they publish is open access, but they also serve as an access portal to others that are subscription-based.
  • ( This is a site of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). From the site, this site " is a registry of federally and privately supported clinical trials conducted in the United States and around the world. gives you information about a trial's purpose, who may participate, locations, and phone numbers for more details."
  • Scirus ( This is a search engine for scientific information. Interestingly enough, it is maintained by Elsevier. It claims to be "the most comprehensive scientific research tool on the web. With over 370 million scientific items indexed at last count, it allows researchers to search for not only journal content but also scientists' homepages, courseware, pre-print server material, patents and institutional repository and website information."
  • TOXLINE ( This is National Library of Medicine's resource of toxicology literature. TOXLINE in fact is short for Toxicology Literature Online. This resource is actually part of a larger collection of resources from the NLM's Division of Specialized Information Services that also includes things like TOXNET and ChemIDPlus.
If you need to learn more about how to do Biomedical Research, you need a little refresher of what is available, or you become a librarian who has need to do health sciences research (say you become your academic library's new health science's liaison but you don't see yourself as a health sciences person), then you should read this article and keep in handy.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Link to Article Note on the Future of Reference in Libraries

Since for some reason Blogger is being unresponsive in terms of saving the text of the post here, I have posted the note over at the scratch pad. You can read the post over there, and if you want to comment (but do not have or want a Vox account), you are welcome to put your comments here. My apologies to my two readers for the inconvenience of making you go back and forth.

The citation for the article itself:

O'Gorman, Jack and Barry Trott, "What Will Become of Reference in Academic and Public Libraries?" Journal of Library Administration 49 (2009): 327-339.

Read via Interlibrary Loan.

Link to the posting.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Booknote: Been There, Should've Done That (college tips)

My review as posted on my GoodReads list. Do note my comment on use of library and electronic resources.

Been There, Should've Done That II : More Tips for Making the Most of CollegeBeen There, Should've Done That II : More Tips for Making the Most of College by Suzette Tyler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is basically a book of quotes with bits and pieces of advice for the college bound. Most of the advice is from college students, but there are some pieces of advice from college advisors and professors. Having been on both sides of the desk, I will say to readers that are college bound to heed some of the things professors say and suggest in this book. Most of the advice and suggestions are pretty solid, but there are some that you have to take with a grain of salt. There are also suggestions that may seem contradictory. For example, in the section about Greek life, you will find quotes from students that are both favorable and unfavorable to the Greek system. What that means is that going Greek worked for some people, and it did not work for others. In the end, you can get all the advice in the world, but you have to make up your mind and choose the path that works for you. Things like working hard, studying, good time management, and socializing in a moderate way are probably the best pieces of advice in the book.

There are also one or two pieces that are not accurate, which is why I say that you have to take a good part of this book with a big grain of salt. One particular quote was inaccurate, and it jumped at me because I am an academic librarian, and I know how things work. The quote:

"Know the web address of journals in your field so that you can access the full text without going to the library" --Graduate, Microbiology, University of Michigan (page 94).

I noticed the name was not given. He or she was probably in deep crap once he realized it does not work that way. As a librarian, I can tell you that advice is bunk. Most journals (unless they are open-access, and no, not all journals are open-access) do NOT just post their articles full-text on their website for you to use. They charge for that; you can get a subscription or buy the article. Now, if you are a college student, you can still do a lot of research without going to the library (if you must). Usually, your library offers remote access to its databases (it's part of the licensing agreement, and your tuition helps pay for it). Databases have a lot of articles in full-text, and if you find a citation to one the database does not have full-text, the librarians can usually locate it for you free. So, there is no real good way to do your research, especially as a graduate student, without using the library (sure, you can google a lot of stuff, which may or not be good, at your peril). In the end, I will give you one piece of advice not really in the book: become friends with the librarians. They know pretty much every resource out there; they are happy and willing to help you, and they can find stuff you never knew existed.

So ends my little pro-library and librarian rant. Overall, the book is nice and amusing. I think it would make a nice gift to recent high school graduates headed for college, but again, take things with a grain of salt.

View all my reviews >>

Friday, July 09, 2010

Some random thoughts on engaged information literacy

I know I have read about this before, the issue of students who do not look at their research sources with a critical eye. I can't quite recall one particular piece I have in mind, but here are some places where I have pondered the idea: back in June 2006, again in December 2006, and more recently March 2009. Here is the deal: when we talk about information literacy, we usually refer to the definition saying that an information literate person is one who recognizes their information need, evaluates it, and then makes use of what he finds in an effective and ethical manner. I may be simplifying a bit as I put it in my own words, but I am sure that is the gist of it. If my two readers prefer, here is the link to the actual ACRL statement so they can compare. What I don't see much is the part of interpreting the information and critically making the best use of it. Most of the emphasis I have seen when it comes to information literacy, as an instruction librarian dealing with others in the same work and in a good amount of the literature, goes mostly into the finding part of the equation. But the question is how do you read that information? How do you interpret it? How do you recognize obvious as well as subtle biases? Better yet, why should the students care about something like bias in their sources? And shouldn't the professors deal with that anyhow? As an information literacy librarian, those are some of the questions I find interesting and force me to reflect on what I do.

I will say that librarians are in a much better position to "deal" with it at the point of need. We help the students find the information. We answer their questions from teaching how to find sources to what makes a good source. We have the requisite knowledge to analyze that information and point out any issues with it. Thus we can teach students how to be critical and skeptical information users and thinkers.

Maybe I am being a bit idealistic. After all, I happen to like that quote about democracy and educated citizens. It's the one from the Boston Public Library that says ""The Commonwealth requires the education of the people as the safeguard of order and liberty."We are experts at finding information and answers; we are also experts at evaluating that information and deciding what sources are best and what sources are best left in the scrap pile. Yes, we do make such decisions. This is where we distinguish ourselves and where we bring value to our communities be they academic or public. It's what makes us professionals, even at a time when some of my own professional brethren keep insisting on belittling what we do or questioning said professionalism on some mere technicality. We should be able to tell a student, "if you use this source, keep in mind it has X or Y bias or issue with it." And if they ask how do we know, we show them exactly how we know so they learn. No, if they all learned, it would not put me out of work. Information and how it is organized as well as its nuances constantly changes, and I am the one who gets to keep up and teach others. I will always have work, and it will be meaningful work. Well, I think working to have a better educated citizenry is pretty meaningful.

* * *

Citation to the article that brought this about:

Emmons, Mark, Wanda Martin,, "Engaging Sources: Information Literacy and the Freshman Research Paper (Part I)." LOEX Quarterly 36.4 (Winter 2010): 8-9.

This is subscription based, and my library happens to subscribe. Use ILL if you want it.

A sample passage from the article I highlighted:

  • "While Joseph describes the program accurately and understood the study's evaluative purpose, he misrepresents its conclusion and fails to note that the article was written by two people who work for the California Dairy Council, the advocacy group for the California dairy industry that developed Nutrition Pathfinders in the first place" (8). This is an example of using studies sponsored by a specific industry with a financial stake on an issue.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Short notes on Bob Sutton Webinar

I registered and listened to the webinar featuring Bob Sutton, author of Good Boss, Bad Boss and The No Asshole Rule (which I read. You can find my note on it here). Besides the fact that I happen to find the work interesting, I think that some of what Mr. Sutton writes is very applicable to librarianship. Plus, the webinar was free. These are then my notes from the presentation.

From the presentation's opening:

  • "Some things are still a mystery to me, and others are much too clear." --Jimmy Buffett. The quote was used to open the presentation.
  • One mystery to Mr. Sutton is how to do a good performance evaluation. I will say that it is a mystery to me as well. In fact, Sutton has blogged on that very topic. He said during the presentation that, overall, the academic literature on the topic is not very encouraging, but that you can find some stuff on questions to use that may be good.
  • Effective leaders are self-obsessed without being egomaniacs. The effective leaders think about what they do because they have chosen to be concerned with how they come across to others. The problem is that bosses are usually very oblivious to their subordinates. The good bosses are less oblivious. In the meantime, the subordinates are hyper-focused on the boss.
  • Bosses, or those who are promoted to management, often face the problem of power poisoning. The power poisoning is evident in patterns such as the boss only focusing on his own needs and concerns and in acting as if the rules did not apply to him.
  • Bosses who focus on who they lead tend to be better bosses.
Some themes: Sutton discussed the following themes:

  • Assertiveness. Good bosses are moderately assertive. They know when to push and when to back off, which is an art. I will say that it can be an art that a good number of library administrators fail to achieve. Sutton suggests that assertiveness is more important than charisma.
  • The best management is sometimes no management at all. This does not mean getting rid of all managers. What it means is that managers often overestimate their own value to the organization. They don't realize the damage they cause by their constant watching and micromanaging. Using the words of William Coyne, after you plant a seed in the ground, you don't dig it up every week to see how it is doing.
  • Use the "small wins" strategy. Long term goals are essential, but when people do not know the smaller steps, people will tend to freeze and/or freak out. I was reminded of some long term "planning" sessions I have witnessed or was involved in, too much long term, not enough specific steps. Sutton says that the best managers break big goals into the smaller, doable steps. This will increase the confidence in the workers as they succeed from one task to another towards the larger goal.
  • Wisdom. The best bosses dance on the edge of self-confidence, but they have a healthy dose of self-doubt and humility. This serves to avoid arrogance. Balancing this is a rare talent as well. Personally, I tend to have a bit more respect for a boss who can show a degree of humility and knows when he or she needs to ask a question, get input from others, and actually listen to it than just bluff their way with bravado. Quote from Jeffrey Katzenberger, the Dreamworks CEO, referring to how he has changed from simply going into meetings, being the first one to talk and overall dictating to others: "I don't like to go first anymore. I actually like to hear what other people have to say first." I have to say that I am like that. Very often I will sit in a meeting, listen to the others, and then speak after I have heard what the others have said. Sometimes I may not say anything at the meeting, but I will go back to my office, ponder it, then contact whoever I need to speak to accordingly. It can have an advantage, but it can also give people the impression you are just not actively collaborating (I had a boss actually tell me that once, that being too quiet may not be a good thing. Take it for what it's worth).
  • Leading a good fight. Good bosses fight in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Fight as if you were right, listen as if you are wrong. Good bosses nurture this type of respectful environment. The key is leading constructive conflict, but this requires people's trust (that is another reason I may start out quiet. I am checking to see who can be trusted). Bosses need to understand that gaining people's trust can take time.
The Stars and the Rotten Apples:
  • One way to evaluate an organization is to ask who are the stars. Do they undermine or enhance collective performance? In the organization, how are the stars defined? If the way to the top in the organization is to stomp and step on others, and if that behavior is actually rewarded, then you have trouble.
  • The bad apples. This includes the deadbeats, the downers, and the assholes. Sutton says that they can bring down performance in your organization by 30%-40% when compared to teams without bad apples. Research shows that, between adding new stars and getting rid of the bad apples (both are fair options), getting rid of the bad apples is much better for the organization. Why is this? For one, when you have bad apples you spend too much time managing the assholes and dealing with their issues, taking away from what you should be doing. Second, assholes and their ilk are contagious.
  • You should strive then to bring in stars (a positive) and get rid of your bad apples (the negative). Preferable, if you have to choose, to eliminate the negatives.
Does the boss have his workers back? The best bosses protect their people from intrusions, distractions, idiots, and idiocy of every type. I think a good number of library and university administrators could learn from this idea.
  • Idiocy from on high. The good boss will do what it takes to protect workers from this problem.
  • Ignoring rules and procedures. The good boss will tell workers, when necessary, what rules and procedures can be safely ignored and still function.
  • Changing bad rules and procedures. The good boss, when this is possible, will work to change any bad rules and procedures that hinder his workers from doing their work and being successful.
  • Taking the heat for your people. The good boss deals with the idiots himself so that others can keep working (instead of simply passing them on and being blissfully ignorant).
  • Battling enemies and idiots on their behalf. The good boss, depending on the local politics and his mojo (so to speak), will do this. It may be risky, but at times it has to be done. As boss, you must be sensitive to what is really important and what can be ignored.
Two diagnostic questions to ask yourself if you are a boss to see how self-aware you are and how you are doing. And you should be honest when you answer them. I particularly liked the second one. Often when workers leave for a new job and references are checked, the question is if the person would be rehire-able. I think this makes a good question for bosses:

  1. Do you know what it feels like to work for you?
  2. If they had a choice, would your people elect to work for you again?

From the Q&A segment at the end:

  • On dealing with a bad apple. Start with the assumption that many people lack self-awareness, so begin by providing feedback to the bad apple. Second, work on coaching once the person has been made aware. If this fails, then you give them a warning. After that, it's either you try to find a new role for them in the organization, or you fire them. However, do not start with the assumption that the bad apple is aware of the damage they may be doing. People overall can really lack awareness.
  • The General Electric model. If you have a good performer, but he is bad for the overall values and culture of the organization, get rid of them. If you have a performer who objectively may not be as good, but he is excellent for the values and culture of the organization, they put all resources available on teaching, coaching, and saving the worker for the organization to improve performance.
  • The worse a boss is, the more likely the subordinates will lie to the boss. At this point, things like anonymous feedback, or even bringing outside consultants, become a necessity. A feared boss will be less likely to take honest feedback well; this refers to the "shoot the messenger" syndrome. Even nicer bosses can have this problem of subordinates who avoid giving the boss bad news.
  • Bosses who lead good creative teams tend to ask the least questions. This is because they let their teams do the work, so they give the team trust, leeway to break rules now and then, so on, and get results.
  • A deviant (I think this refers to someone unconventional) in an organization can be useful. However, an asshole is not.
  • A bad boss in your career can be useful, if for no other reason than he or she can teach you how not to behave.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Article Note: On Knowledge Management and How It Applies to Libraries

Citation for the article:

Sarrafzadeh, Maryam,, "Knowledge Management and Its Potential Applicability for Libraries." Library Management 31.3 (2010): 198-212.

Read via Emerald.

The article basically looks at the concept of knowledge management (KM) and considers how it applies to libraries. It begins by reviewing the literature and outlining the debate within librarianship as to whether KM is just something that librarians do anyways or if it is something different that librarians should be doing. KM comes into play because of the trend to apply business solutions to library and information science environments. KM is in fact a business concept, and it has found its way into librarianship. I am not interested in looking at how business practices have been applied in libraries; that is material for another time, and the author mentions examples briefly. The main interest here is the KM concept.

The authors argue that in order to survive in a competitive world, organizations need to be able to transform information into knowledge so they can use that knowledge to stay competitive, make decisions, and make new products and services. They write that "the principal asset for organizations in both the private and the public sectors is knowledge" (199). This is why firms and organizations are investing in knowledge management. Though it started in the business world, by now, it has been applied in the nonprofit world, which includes libraries. And yet, in spite of the fact that KM has attracted the attention of libraries and library management, at the end of the day, "there appears to be no clear indication about how KM relates to libraries" (200). It seems the profession is still just trying to figure out what to do with it.

Historically, librarians have always dealt with the organization of knowledge. This is what libraries do. Librarians work as facilitating intermediaries between those who have knowledge and those who need it. It's what reference work is about as well as other library services. But the authors argue that librarians need to expand their vision of KM. They cite Davenport and Prusak, who write that librarians "must realize that people, not printed or electronic resources are the most valuable information asset in any organization" (qtd. in 200). This is why I say that I will always have work. You can have the best databases in the world, but if you do not know how to use them and how to leverage them to your best advantage, the database is just an expensive subscription toy. Librarians are also assets as people in terms of the knowledge they have and in terms of the connections they make with other people. Those are resources that should be leveraged as well. In essence, librarians are knowledge managers. The authors cite Middleton, who makes this distinction: "management may be aware that information resources of a library are their collection and materials, however, the knowledge resources of a library are its staff" (qtd. in 201).

The authors go on to define knowledge sharing in the context of the article. "Knowledge sharing is a means to achieve business goals through transferring knowledge between employees, customers and other stakeholders" (201). This kind of culture needs to be developed for libraries to formulate a KM strategy according to the authors, and it is something that will take time. Librarians are already familiar with this concept. In fact, "KM authors sometimes see librarians as key brokers of knowledge sharing" (202). The problem often is that libraries lack the resources or infrastructure to make KM practical and possible. The librarians may have positive perceptions about it, but it seems their organizations often fail to put into place KM initiatives. Even things as simple as librarians consulting their colleagues as sources of knowledge rarely occurs because, even though librarians do show an interest in consulting, they often do not see other academics as a knowledge acquisition source. I wonder which librarians were surveyed in the work the authors cite. I have always know that sometimes it is just better to consult a local source for an answer. Yet campus infrastructure, the culture, so on, rarely encourage for more of this to happen. On the positive though, librarians are developing their own tools and resources to engage in KM such as blogs and wikis. Internal reference blogs can be an example of this.

The authors did conduct their own survey to investigate perceptions of the LIS people as well as benefits and advantages of KM in libraries. Let us look at some of the findings.

  • "Knowledge management has been seen as a survival factor for libraries" (203). Given the challenges libraries face, this may well be another way in which librarians add value.
  • "Furthermore, KM gives librarians an opportunity to collaborate with other units in their organizations and hence, to become more integrated into corporate operations and enhance the overall visibility within the organization" (204). I think you can replace the word "corporate" for "academic" in that statement, and it would still be a valid statement, especially at a time when more academic administrators see the library as just a budget item that can or should be cut.
Some examples of KM activity. I am pulling these from some activities mentioned in the study:
  • Set up of a database of topics proposed for publication and for those published in the organization. This can serve not only as storage but as a planning tool.
  • An internal archive. Intranets.
  • Creating a knowledge base, which can then push information internally or two a public website depending on need. I would guess this could translate, at the public website level, into tools like FAQs.
More findings:
  • "In KM, people (their skills and expertise) are the most important asset of an organization. Organizations need to capture the tacit intuitions and know-how that knowledge workers acquire through years of experience and practice, so that their knowledge can be leveraged at the organizational level. This will avoid risking a loss of knowledge when people leave organizations. In other words, in KM, people are not only knowledge users but also knowledge resources and knowledge generators" (208). This also has to do with things like succession planning, which is something not many libraries seem to worry about, and yet they should. Lose a couple of good librarians or staff members, and chaos will ensue. I wonder if in many cases this has to do with the fact that librarians, at least at the early stages of their careers, may jump around every two or three years in search of better opportunities. You take a job knowing you will jump when the better one comes along. For libraries, this means a significant cost in terms of training and continuity, and if it is a case where a particular library has a poor environment that leads to a lot of turnover, the problem is worse. You have to treat your people as assets, and I mean more than saying lip service. They have knowledge, and it must be used and managed.
For those interested in reading further, the article does have a pretty extensive bibliography. While the article seems a bit more focused on corporate libraries, I think it does have a thing or two to say for those of us in academic libraries as well.