Friday, December 29, 2006


Library 2.0 has an interesting posting about using students as "greeters" for academic libraries in order to make patrons not only feel more comfortable in entering the library, but also to field and direct inquiries as a front-line staff. What a marvellous idea, and very much part of the Library 2.0 mantra, which is about innovation and user-centred creativity. What greeters can do is simply build on this, starting from the floor up.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Health Librarianship Internationale

Drawing from their combined experience in international activities and the published information available from selected library associations and related organizations, Bruce Madge and T. Scott Plutchak’s “The increasing globalization of health librarianship: a brief survey of international trends and activities” offers fascinating insights into the current developments in international health librarianship and describe some current themes. It’s worth a read. Here are the major points.

(1) Co-operation and partnership

Co-operation and partnerships have been key to libraries for a number of years. As budgets shrink, cooperative collection development has been more readily accepted as a policy.

(2) Open access

Radical changes in scholarly communication comprises a major area affecting all library services and not just those in the health sector. Much of the discussion in recent years has dealt with open access. The importance of this theme is emphasized by the fact that the British Government has even been included in the debate.

(3) Technology

The rapid growth and uptake of technology has had a massive impact on libraries over the last 20 years. The Internet has changed the way libraries access information, and the move to electronic publishing has caused major concerns for libraries as to whether to continue to take print journals or to move to electronic materials.

(4) Keeping ahead of the curve

The idea of horizon scanning has only recently appeared in the health-library sector in the UK as a recommendation of the ‘Future Proofing the Profession’ report. It is essential that health librarians and information professionals keep up to date with developments in key areas such as information technology.

But this is in a British context; has North American health librarianship caught up yet? I guess we'll find out.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Dent in the Web

Just when Web 2.0 was about to take off, a minor roadblock has been erected by Google when it announced recently that it has taken off its Google Search API off the market. Before, you could simply integrate the free coding with other content (and API's) to form a mashup in what is now popularly referred to the new Web 2.0, better searching, faster integration, larger social networks.

But with Google taking out this essential piece of software, as well as modifying its Google Maps API terms of use, is Google taking the horrendous mis-step of preventing the progress of the new web? Let's hope not. Without API's, we won't be able to use such applications such as this. And seeing that it's so near Christmas, it would be a shame, too. Ho ho ho.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Farewell to the Google Scholar

It is only proper that I make this posting on December 8th, which is the last day of the Google Scholar's blog before it goes on hiatus for a much deserved sabbatical. It has been my pleasure to have been the recipient of the Google Scholar's mentorship. Without any idea of what I was doing or where I was going, the Google Scholar showed me what it takes to be a librarian. Here is what I learned:

(10) Teaching - As he says so often, the profession has changed immensely over the last twenty years. Emphasis on teaching has never been as great as it is now, and that is one of the reasons why librarians must also be great teachers, which the Google Scholar is.

(9) Empathy - He treats his students and employees as he would a top-level administrator. He sees the profession not as a hierarchical ladder, but as a community where information flows as freely as emotions and thoughts. He stands up for his employees and colleagues, and puts his neck on the line for them. When he sees students in need, he doesn't think twice about phoning them and asking how they're doing during their late evening shifts.

(8) Networks - He believes in social networks, not for personal gain, but for collaboration and learning. The Scholar's reach in the library, academic, and medical community is far and wide. He reaches out, and connects people not only to information, but also to other people.

(7) Cooperation - He believes in librarians helping each other. He believes that equal opportunities exist for all, and hence, his support for such things as open-access, PubMed, and Google Scholar.

(6) Knowledge - The Google Scholar is one of the premiere information retrieval experts in the profession. More admirably, he believes in sharing his knowledge, which he does through his tireless writings on his blog and discussions with colleagues and students.

(5) Believing in oneself - As he tells all his students, self-confidence is the key to success. Although he offers opinions, when it really matters, he steps back and allows his mentees to think for themselves, for he knows they are ultimately the ones who control their own destinies. He creates pathways, and allows us to find our own destinations.

(4) Humour - The Google Scholar is also a performer and comedian. He can light up any audience with his lighthearted quips and creative improvisation, often at the most appropriate of times.

(3) Technology - If there is one thing that I learned from the Google Scholar, it is to keep up with technology. In the library profession, technology is important as ever, and is a key goal in helping maximize information resources for the users and patrons. Google, blogging, mashups, blikis, etc. They keep on coming, and the Google Scholar keeps on absorbing. Nothing gets by this man.

(2) Hard work - Paying your dues. That's what the Google Scholar's career is all about. As he so often tells us, he started out with no clear indication of where he was going. All he knew was that he wanted to be a health librarian in order to make a difference in people's lives. Through sheer determination and hard work, he has done just that. And much more.

(1) Passion - If there's one thing that defines the Google Scholar, it is passion, a pure love of librarianship. Regardless of how one performs and how knowledgeable one is, nothing can compensate for passion. He breathes and bleeds librarianship. His passion is contagious. He is not only a mentor and teacher, but also a true friend.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

What's Wrong?

LibraryCrunch has just reported that the term "Library 2.0" is being considered for deletion in Wikipedia. It's caused a ruckus. Understandably, there is discomfort with the term. What is it? What does it mean? I've discussed in a previous post my attitudes towards Web 2.0, I have similar thoughts for Library 2.0. Although it's disconcerting to see the overreaction, it's also exciting to see that controversy is forcing us to reexamine our profession and what it constitutes. Let's see where Wikipedia takes us in the next while.

Library 2.0

Michael Habib's Master's degree thesis is released. With great anticipation comes great expectations. All are met. It's definitely worth a read. What do I think of Library 2.0? It's a nice catchy term, definitely part of the "2.0" wave. However, stripped down to its essence, the principles of Library 2.0 need to be adapted into the library setting. It's the natural progression of where the profession and its resources are heading. So why should we resist? Let's use the ideas which best serves the user.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Mashups for Librarians

I recently gave a presentation on mashups. People were interested, and most of all, they realized that there's a lot one can do with mashups. I believe that librarians and information professionals need to know what mashups are, particularly since they are an essential element of Web 2.0. A mashup thus does exactly what Web 2.0 technology is supposed to: they allow greater interactivity, more user control of information, user personalization, the development of online communities, and greater democratic management of information.

Why are mashups relevant for information professionals and librarians? Matthew Dames lists two reasons: First, social software tools such as mashups are the perfect opportunity to extend its reach beyond the library building, particularly in a time when there is real fear that patrons are no longer use reference services as vehemently as they once did. Second: job security. Social software tools such as mashups allow librarians to “reclaim” areas of influence and expertise in the organization that have been ceded to the IT department.

I'd add one more, and it's pretty obvious: the main goal of the health librarian (and all librarians, for that matter) is to serve his or her user. Mashups help achieve that goal, and then some.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Open Access = End of Publishing

Library 2.0 has just written an intriguing entry titled, The Coming End of Completed Publications. Indeed, Library 2.0's entry has an exclaimer which warns us it's too early to judge whether the end of publishing as we know it will occur. But Library 2.0 does pose some interesting scenarios in regards to how open access is slowly bringing in complexities to the game of printed publishing.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Marketing Open Access

Today, UBC librarian Hilde Colenbrander gave a fascinating presentation on open access. She pointed out that the "impact factor" plays a large hand in the OA movement. The reason why is that scholars have an incentive to publish in established and prestigious journals. For young scholars who want tenureship, they must get published in such journals, not in open access publications, freely available to all.

Heleen Gierveld's recent article, Considering a Marketing and Communications Approach for an Institutional Repository proposes an "8P's" as a strategy for promoting institutional repositories. This article complements a previous entry that I had made, and supports the idea that creativity is essential for the OA movement.

One thing Colenbrander said which stood out in my mind: research and development. With a hectic work schedule, most academic librarians simply do not have time for study and reflection on gigantic issues such as open access. Without support from their institutions, librarians simply cannot devote the proper attention necessary. But librarians are supposed to be at the forefront of this moment; they need more support than they are currently given.

Friday, November 03, 2006

NHL on Google

The wait is over. The National Hockey League (NHL) has paved the road for professional sports' entrance into open-access. Understandably, there will be skeptics who cringe at the thought of a corporate entertainment giant taking a plunge into the online environment, and making a profit at the same time. But the NHL has just made an agreement with Google Videos which allows entire broadcasts to be online. Hence, classics such as the Vancouver Canucks-New York Rangers' Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals can be seen in its entirety, or games that you missed from yesterday can be replayed at a click of a mouse.

But the NHL is making a bold move. By putting its games online, it has unwittingly joined the realm of open-access, which includes among other things, "open collaboration, open authoring, open platforming, and open searching for everyone." Whether this hurts its NHL Network cable broadcasts remains to be seen. (They are live events, compared to Google Video's 4 hour tape-delay). As a sports fan, this is an unbelievable day. As a proponent of Web 2.0, I am ecstatic. The champagne is flowing endlessly. Let the games begin!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Web 3.0? How about 4.0?

Not surprisingly, some people are disturbed with Web 2.0. What is it? What makes it so different from Web 1.0? What is Web 1.0? It is understandable that there is anxiety, coupled with a certain element of skepticism.

With that said, I introduce to you Web 3.0. What is it? Phil Wainewright, a technology expert, believes that Web 2.0 is but a "transitional" period proto-Web 3.0 stage, where the best is yet to come. What do I think? Be careful what you wish for. Sooner or later, Web XP will be the latest version of the web that you and I will be using...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Oh, So This Is A Systematic Review

Yesterday's session on systematic review searching was an eye-opener. It turns out that I've been doing systematic review searching the whole time, but never knew it! It's no wonder why researchers have kept on insisting that I keep a list of my search terms and databases in my literature searches. As an uninformed searcher, I had wondered why do they need it? They've got the articles, they're useful, why do they need to be so careful about such seemingly "unimportant" data?

I'll ask the question again: Why do we need systematic review searching? The reason, as Mimi Doyle of the Centre for Clinical Epidemiology and Evaluation reveals, is so that researchers can keep a tab of how much time they had spent on a project (for things like accounting audits). Not only that, as part of the scientific method, the experiment should have reproductibility, which means that everything from searching to the actual experimentation and apparatuses needs to be as documented as carefully as possible. This is a fascinating revelation: searching in the health sciences is every bit as scientific as the labs that go on each day. It's all part of the bigger picture
in healing.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Tale of Two Professions

I recently went to a luncheon hosted by the Vancouver Association of Law Librarians (VALL) with whom the talented Eugene Barsky gave a talk on Wiki's. The similarities between medical librarianship and law librarianship caught my attention. After freshly returning from a conference in Seattle from the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Medical Library Association where I spoke to medical librarians about the salient issues of the day, I was intrigued to hear similar discussion echoed among law librarians (and technicians).

Conclusion? Things aren't so different between these two supposedly very different areas of librarianship. Social software, Web 2.0, recruitment, employment forecasts all came up during discussion. (In fact, Christina Tribe of Harper Grey tells me that 50% of her time is spent on medical databases and CISTI). One person who participated at the luncheon has a blog entry which has striking relevance to medical librarianship and echoes a similar problem. I'd like to share with you an excerpt:

So who must pay attention to this? Well first of all - VALL. We (I speak as a member of the Executive) have to prepare our membership. Mentoring and training are goingnto be more important than ever. Next up, UBC SLAIS. The legal bibliography course needs to be offered regularly, and we need to support it (be it Teresa Gleave or another local Librarian who takes on this huge task).

Replace the legal terms/people with medical terms/people and you'd find the above arguments to be highly relevant and interchangeable in both areas. In my opinion, because both professions - law and medicine - are so specialized, they require talented and creative individuals to fill its posts, especially one which requires information retrieval. Answer? Librarians of the future.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

New Frontiers

At the PNC/MLA Conference in Seattle, Terry Henner, Associate Professor and Head of Information & Education Services of the Savitt Medical Library at theUniversity of Nevada School of Medicine, gave a fascinating presentation on a collaboration project between the Savitt Medical Library and a consortia of local public health organizations to build information sharing capacity into a regional obesityreuction initiative. His presentation highlighted how information technologies can support and enhance the activities of care providers, educators, and advocates who have entered into a regional coalition aiming at reducing obesity rates.

Two things particularly stood out for me. First was Henner's introduction of social software into the library environment. In using RSS to Javascript, a program that seamlessly integrates RSS feeds directly to the webpage, Henner's project removed the previous inhibitions of users about creating their own aggregators and feedreaders by doing the work for them, thus making the homepage more accessible and user-friendly.

Second, Henner left an indelible mark for me about the acceptance of new experimental technologies. In his conclusion, he makes clear the point that not everyone will accept what you think is integral: "Utility is in the eye of the beholder." What an excellent point. Simple, yet so often overlooked. We often want results right away -- but in doing so, we forget that it takes time and patience for others to follow. (However, "Resistance can be overcome" as he argues). Henner leaves us with what I thought was the best quote to take home with me: "Some success is better than none." A marvellous anecdote: if we create something out of nothing, then perhaps that itself is an achievement worthy of celebration.

Changing the Face of Searching?

Well, as you may have heard by now, Ms. Dewey is a brand new search engine that is taking a run at Google. Reviews are all over the blogosphere now. However, it's so unique that I'm going to hop onto the Blogosphere Express and offer my two cents:

(1) Interface - Well, what more can I say. It's definitely a diversion from Google's simplicity. There's more to look at, that's for sure. But I like it. It's fresh, dynamic, and interactive. The only drawback is that the search results are a bit cumbersome to navigate.

(2) Web 2.0-compatible - To date, there's still no search engine that makes witty comments, shows signs of moodiness, and has an interest in your searches. True, it's artificial, but it's still not a bad attempt at user interaction. When one types in a search term or phrase, Janina offers a commentary. If the question is bizarre enough, Janina might even perform a short skit.

(3) Effectiveness - In the end, the question is, can it do what it's supposed to do? I've done quite a few searches. It's definitely no Google. A little trick that I use to determine an engine's effectiveness is to try finding a journal article by simply by typing in the full (or partial) article title. Ms. Dewey unfortunately comes up short (but so does Yahoo! and MSN Live). Google still rules at the end of the day.

(4) A new type of search engine - The "traditional" search engine days of Google and Yahoo! are increasingly challenged by up and comers. The clustering search engines such as Clusty and Vivisimo are great tools; and the visual search engines like Kartoo are also great as well. And now we have the "interactive" search engine. What does this all mean? There's still a ways to go before Ms. Dewey can offer us searchers something substantial. Perhaps Janina can offer a witty remark to that.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Restful in Seattle

Sunny weather. Good food. Great people. Even greater conversations. Exactly what I experienced from a very successful and rewarding conference down in Seattle from the PNC/MLA Conference, "Mission in the Mountains." Still processing the vast amount of information absorbed from the speakers, presentations, and posters, I'm excited to present my take of the trip.

But what was my highlight of the conference? Definitely the Roundtable Luncheon where a group of highly motivated and curious librarians and information professionals talked about wikis, blogs, and RSS. I was asked what was Web 2.0. I've been blogging a great deal about social software and learning as much as I can about this fascinating topic, but when asked what it all means, I ironically stumbled for the right explanation, and was almost at a loss for words about Web 2.0 and its implications for an library and information centre setting? So much to say, where to begin?

I managed to summarize my ideas in less than three sentences, crunched with key terms as "user-centred," "open access," and "social interaction." More importantly, I stressed that Web 2.0 is not easily definable -- rather, it is "state of mind." Had I known that I would be asked for my opinion, I would have introduced to my colleagues a wonderful article by Jack Maness, "Library 2.0 Theory: Web 2.0 and Its Implications for Libraries," which is fittingly published from an open-access journal. Web 2.0 is still in a fairly new, and experimental stage, and requires time for evolution. The best is yet to come. I hope that my message had got across the table. Maybe. Just maybe.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Library 2.0 -- An Experiment

I feel like we're all taking the same train. But more the merrier: all aboard. Library 2.0: An Academic's Perspectives has written a wonderful blog about an actual real-life example about a library that uses social software. This is what he writes:

There are some people who rightly sing the praises of the Ann Arbor District Library because its site is blog-based. However, blogs are restrictive relative to wikis in that the typical user cannot create an entry but only comment on it. In the library context, librarians are in control of their Web site content and users can only respond. This is valuable, to be sure, but in terms of radical trust (a Library 2.0 buzzword), it falls short.

This is a fascinating experiment. A blog is a good start - but wikis? Why not? I say, go for it. The possibilities are endless (IF designed properly). There are probably other library catalogues that are using social software features. Where are we going? Hopefully, to a more interactive, more accessible tool for users and patrons for all libraries and information systems. The game's still early, but it's already very promising from the looks of Ann Arbor District's brave, bold step forward.

To Blog, or Not to Blog, that is the Question

I'm a proponent of looking at both sides of a coin. While I'm a huge supporter of social software and its potential impacts on the information society, I am also interested in listening to the arguments against blogging and its potential controversies.

A few months ago, GeekNurse was shut down due to management concerns. The symptoms? "Management-concern-itis." According to blogosphere rumours, hospital managers could not stand an employee's public persona and growing following. Of course, blogging is a powerful social tool where online communities can share ideas and exchange commentaries, but can an organization be really threatened by one person's "cult" following? Can blogging really be so detrimental to a work place environment, particularly one that deals with health?

Let's hope that the controversial shut down of Geek Nurse does not set a trend. When personal homepages became possible in the early 1990's, the same jittery fears brewed in cyberspace. Employees were fired, scandals broke, and homepages hacked. But eventually, things died down, and in fact, so did personal homepages to a certain extent.

What is my take, you ask? Blogging is here to stay. Although it's still too early to tell what blogging will look like a few years from now, we're on the cusp of change and innovation, so my take is to stay tuned and stay alert. Personal homepages from commercial services did not work as well as blogging because as a Web 1.0 technology, homepages did not allow room for social interaction, while blogging does. However, blogging has yet to evolve to the point where it can be considered true Web 2.0. It's still a work in progress, which truly makes this is an exciting time for all.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Copyright Infringement, You Say?

I recently watched Birth of a Nation on Google Videos, and it was great. I could've rented it or purchased it, but instead of doing all that, I simply typed in the title and voila, 3 hours of history right within my grasp. (Google even entertains as well). While such a phenomen probably deserves a plethora of articles from a communications, information science, sociology, economics, business, and just about any disipline's view point, what is most pressing to me is its place in Web 2.0.

Doesn't it feel like something this good probably crosses some legal ramifications? According to GigaOM's post, yes. In fact, a number of Bollywood hits can be seen online right after its theatre release -- and it's a matter of time that it's going to get out of hand. But in the meantime, isn't it ironically strange that open access is challenging both studios and DVD piracy? I wonder how much Kung Fu Hustle costs out in the black market these days...

Milkshakes and IR's

Monica McCormack's freshly-written Master's thesis is really worth a read. Using business theory, she creatively weaves the proposal that libraries need to market and establish a brand name for insitutional repositories in order for them to succeed. Here is an excerpt:

Seeking to increase milkshake sales, a fast-food company interviewed customers they had identified as key to the "milkshake demographic." Based on that research, they changed their recipes, but sales remained about the same. Further research showed that 40% milkshakes were purchased early in the morning.

They learned that customers facing a long commute wanted a breakfast that would be both filling and easy to eat in the car. Bananas would not hold them until lunch; bagels and breakfast sandwiches were too messy. Milkshakes, despite their relative lack of nutritional value, served these consumers’ needs.

In Christensen’s language, the customers "hired" milkshakes to do a particular job. The company responded by providing milkshake dispensers in front of their counters, where customers could buy them with a simple swipe of a credit card, and created new flavors with chunks of fruit, making the product more fun to eat. Milkshake sales improved. The point of this story is that creators of a new product must ensure that is does what their customers need—and the needs assessment may reveal some surprises.

McCormick makes a strong case. Sometimes, we assume that open access is such an inherently good thing that it's a given that people will eventually come around and realize the future of publishing. Perhaps McCormick reminds us that before we reach that stage, we should explore possible avenues in welcoming others to join us first.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


What is a mashup, you say? This is a mashup. Innovative. Simple. Functional. User-friendly. To view pictures or videos, just click on a country (Google maps) to reveal a filmstrip view of the images (Flickr) and videos (Youtube) that are available for that country. Since all one needs to do is to tap on the thumbnail so that the video starts playing right on the map, we never even need to leave the map interface. (How nice!)

As this example reveals, there's nothing very revolutionary about mashups. The technology is there. The real ingredients comprise a pinch of creativity and a cabinet of curiosity.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Prowess of GahooYoogle

I was quite surprised when information scientist
Amanda Spinks told us at a talk that search engines usually have a 5% overlap in terms of hits. What this means is that searching is an art more than anything else -- what we come up with really depends on the tools, techniques, experience, and expertise of the searcher. (And dare I say, a certain element of luck, too).

Take a look at GahooYoogle, a nifty search engine which allows us to see results of both search engines, side-by-side. Does this make searching easier? Not really. In my opinion, if you want to do that, then go for a meta-search engine. But if you want to see how the magic of the Google algorithm works compared to another "normal" search engine which uses keyword searching, then try this out.

Do you notice something? One can simply type in the article's full title (or even parts of it, provided it's wrapped around with "quotations"), and wham! there you go, the first few hits will usually lead you to the full or abstract, whereas in a search engine such as Yahoo!, you'll have to work a lot harder to find what you're looking for.

Ah yes, what can't Google do? Another reason why it's still the information professional's best friend.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Myth of Caduceus?

A majority of medical organizations employ a symbol of a short rod entwined by two snakes and topped by a pair of wings. Known as the "caduceus" or magic wand of the Greek god Hermes, conductor of the dead and protector of merchants and thieves, the caduceus came to be associated with a precursor of medicine, based on the Hermetic astrological principles of using the planets and stars to heal the sick in the 7th century.

However, recent medical observers and physicians have been critical of the symbol, for Hermes also happens to be the god that leads the dead to the underworld and is not only associated with wealth and commerce, but happens to be the patron of thieves (a larcenous figure in Greek mythology). Some medical purists suggest we should go back to the staff of Aesculapius, which is depicted as a single serpent coiled around a cypress branch.

In 2003, Wilcox and Whitham further ignited controversy in the medical community when they published an article in the Annals of Internal Medicine, arguing that the design is derived not from the ancient caduceus of Hermes but from the printer’s mark of a popular 19th-century medical publisher. Because of this mishap, the modern caduceus became a popular medical symbol only after its adoption by the U.S. Army Medical Corps at the beginning of the 20th century. The authors contend that a misunderstanding of ancient mythology and iconography has led to the inappropriate popularization of the modern caduceus as a medical symbol. As they argue, the Asklepian is a medical symbol with a heritage stretching well over two millennia while the modern caduceus became a popular medical symbol only in the early years of the 20th century. Scandalous, you say?

Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Wiki’s Worst Nightmare

Recently, the Health Library wiki team discussed the implications of creating a wiki for the health sciences. Is it useful? Who will use it? Why? How? While we were all excited of the implications of what we were doing, we were really walking on unchartered waters. Either we are stumbling onto something great, or we are wasting our time experimenting with something that's not going to be used other than the few people whom we send out the link to.

One question that we debated about was how to monitor the postings. As Stephen Colbert's now infamous Wikiality monologue reveals, not everyone appreciates the power of wiki. Not everyone will have the faith of a democratic wiki. According to Wikipedia, astroturfing:
consist[s] of a few people discreetly posing as mass numbers of activists advocating a specific cause. Supporters or employees will manipulate the degree of interest through letters to the editor, e-mails, blog posts, crossposts, trackbacks, etc. They are instructed on what to say, how to say it, where to send it, and how to make it appear that their indignation, appreciation, joy, or hate is entirely spontaneous and independent; thus being "real" emotions and concerns rather than the product of an orchestrated campaign.

There have been cases reported of astroturfing. It's a serious matter, particularly for a Health Libray Wiki which relies on both updated and accurate information. It should be taken into consideration, particularly if there are a few unruly who want to leave a legacy by giving false information to hurt the many. Can a few wiki masters constantly monitor such a wide net? That will be a challenge that we will face as we move into the information grassroots democracy. With open access, open collaboration, open authoring, open platforming, and open searching in Web 2.0 comes hurdles which we have to face bravely and heads-on.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Microsoft and/or Google? Competitors? Or Just Neighbours?

A fascinating but rather dated article caught my attention as I was taking my daily dip into the blogosphere. It brings up an interesting debate that continues to rule the realms of both the corporate and information world: is Google taking over Microsoft's reign? Or are they even competitors in the first place?

According to Why Microsoft can’t best Google, the answer is yes, Google will rule the day (which is tomorrow). Here is why Phil Wainewright thinks so:

(1) Microsoft wants everyone to have a rich desktop experience, Google wants everyone to have a rich Internet experience.
(2) Microsoft's business model depends on everyone upgrading their computing environment every two to three years. Google's depends on everyone exploring what's new in their computing environment every day.
(3) Microsoft looks at the world from a perspective of desktop+Internet. Google looks at the world from a perspective of Internet+any device.
(4) Microsoft wants computers to help individuals do more unaided. Google wants computers to help individuals do more in collaboration. In the Internet age, who wants to work alone any more, when all the unexplored opportunity is in collaborative endeavor?
(5) In a few year's time, who's going to still be working at a desk anyway?

The most interesting food for thought comes from the blog comments. Take a look. Apparently, the reactions are mixed; not everyone thinks that Google and MSN are competitors. One commentator argued that it's comparing "apples to icebergs." In my opinion, Google is certainly moving into MSN's dominance and in many ways (but not all), has surpassed it. However, one piece of technology which has never taken off has been Googletalk, which is supposed to be the rival to MSN Messenger. On the other hand, Gmail is slowly but surely equalling MSN Hotmail in terms of popularity (and definitely ease of use). Time will tell who will win, or whether winning is the end goal...

Monday, September 25, 2006

A Good Blog

To be good at something, one should always look to the best. And recently, one medical librarian's blog that has caught my attention is the Krafty Librarian. Just when I thought I had stumbled onto sliced bread, it turns out that someone has already gone on to desserts. Such is life... The Krafty Librarian focuses mainly on cutting edge issues about technology - and recently she has turned her focus of attention towards mashups. She has scoured the internet looking for mashup applications, particularly those with a health sciences library-related focus.

I'm anxiously anticipating her upcoming blog entry, as she has promised to write about mashups and their potential applications impact in the health sciences. The Krafty Librarian's most recent entry introduces us to Library Elf - a personal library reminder service that lets create their own username and password then they select their library and then they give Library Elf their library card number and pin number. If the patron's library is not listed they can recommend it to Library Elf to have it listed. Thus, the users then can receive emails, text messages, and RSS feeds for renewal reminders, overdues, and hold items at one click of the mouse (or a few). What do you think? Is it viable?

It's this sort of "mashing" up of different programs and applications through API that makes the future of online technology that much more intriguing.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The "New" Web

Prior to coming across Tim O’Reilly’s “What is Web 2.0," I was still lost in the maze that is now referred to the new web 2.0. Blogging, Wiki's, podcasts, etc. etc. were merely a rehash of previous technologies. (I realize I've been harping on this point for ages - so I apologize for the repeat). However, O'Reilly allays my suspicion with the opinion that Web 2.0 is not meant to be a radical transformation - it is not meant to systematically alter the internet as we know it. Rather, Web 2.0 is a progressive and more interactive approach to online information.

The concept of "Web 2.0" began with a conference brainstorming session between Tim O'Reilly and MediaLive International. O'Reilly, who actually majored in Classics but moved onto the computer manuals business, realized that companies that had survived the collapse all had some things in common. To O'Reilly, the dot-com collapse marked a turning point for the web.

But there's still a huge amount of disagreement about just what Web 2.0 means, with some people asserting that it as a marketer's buzzword, while others take it as the holy grail. (I was somewhere in the middle). O'Reilly's article is definitely worth a read for those uninformed about social software or skeptical about its applications. Here are some of his main points:

Web 1.0 ------verus ------- Web 2.0
DoubleClick ----------------> Google AdSense
Ofoto ----------------------> Flickr
Akamai ---------------------> BitTorrent
-------------------> Napster
Britannica Online ------------> Wikipedia
personal websites ------------> blogging
evite ------------------------>
domain name speculation----> search engine optimization
page views ------------------> cost per click
publishing -------------------> participation
content management ---------> wikis
directories (taxonomy) -------> tagging ("folksonomy")
stickiness -------------------> syndication

Does this look eerily similar to the modern/postermodern dichotomy so hotly contested within academic circles? Sure does to me. But this is a good thing, and a worthwhile discourse in LIS. I see the future of library and information science, and it is headed in the direction of Web 2.0. I feel that we are on the cusp of something great, something that is only starting to unfold. However, there is no "true" concise definition for "Web 2.0" - nor should there be. It should continually contrast and challenge the way we perceive and use information as librarians and information professionals. The next stage in this evolution? Mashups. More on that to come....

Monday, September 18, 2006

Social Software 2.0

Prior to SLAIS, I never had an inkling of the importance of social software, let alone its application in LIS. Is it a radical new development? Depends on what perspective one takes. In my view, social software is nothing new: it has been in the market for a while. ICQ, Geocities, online forums & message groups, and mailing lists, just to name a few. The only difference is that it never quite got categorized under one rubric. Currently, they are repackaged as MSN, blogging, and wikis in a different form (but basically a similar function). Regardless of it being new or old, social software is a powerful tool in communication, particularly for the health sciences since up-to-second information is often crucial for health professional.

Robert S. Kennedy’s “Weblogs, Social Software, and New Interactivity on the Web” offers an intriguing discussion into the importance of Web 2.0 in the health sciences. As he contends, the online environment is undergoing an interesting evolution. Many health professionals are increasingly taking advantage of this new connectedness to experiment with expanding our intellectual and social networks.

Interestingly, he echoes something which many in the library and information circles have been arguing for years now. Blogs offer the possibility of transforming publishing and traditional media into more personal and interactive experiences in which the individual is not just a passive consumer but an active participant. In fact, blogs in medicine and the neurosciences are unique publishing tools that are beginning to have an impact, one in which it has become both personal and professional journals or commentaries that have morphed into a distinct style of communication. Amazing. And we are only on the cusp of these emerging technologies. Can you imagine how much more it will be 10 years from now? I sure can't.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

G.S. To the Rescue

Quick! Put that muffin down! Here are the instructions. You have exactly 30 min's. You have no time to explain to the user your search strategy. You have no idea what sources your user already has in hand. And also, you are not to list the resources available. You are to search, search, and search. And come up with the most relevant articles as possible. (This isn't a reference interview). Now Go!

  • I'm writing a paper for another project I've been working on, and I'm looking for a reference or two to bolster my claim that primary care physicians are insufficiently trained in assessment/referral practices for mental health and/or substance use disorders, and that they aren't adequately integrated with specialized care professionals for these problems. I've found a couple of papers but I thought I'd check with you anyway . . . I'd much appreciate any studies you could throw my way.

What did I do? Google Scholar. Fortunately (or, unfortunately, depending on what perspective you take), when it comes down to finding a quick and dirty way of coming up with scholarly sources, Google Scholar does the job, and does it effectively. For this search, I basically had to cut down the jargon and come up with the key terms.

Because this inquiry pertains to psychology, I have to use a multidisciplinary approach. Of course, if I had more time, I may be able to use CINAHL, PubMed, Medline, or PsychInfo and play around with controlled vocabulary MeSH terms. But we're on a strict time budget! Onwards!

The terms I used were: "primary care physicians" and "mental health" and "insufficient training" and "lack." Surprisingly, despite this unscientific approach, I still came up with some useful
sources. Now, it all depends on context. If this were a reference desk search, it would probably be a terrible failure. However, in my case, it's for a researcher who desperately wants a few sources thrown her way. So, it works. Not the best way, but good enough for the moment.

I used G.S because I felt it covered a wider range of databases, compared to doing searches using just PubMed or Medline. Another reason why I used G.S. is that it's freely accessible online. Just like
PubMed, I don't need UBC access. Moreover, I also liked G.S. because of its related articles feature; it allows me to continously spread my search to articles which are similar to the one at hand. Ah yes, the power (or horrors) of Google Scholar . . .

Monday, September 11, 2006

Mission and Mountains

The upcoming "Mission in the Mountains: Believe and Achieve" is the Western MLA Chapters 2006 Annual Meeting, which will be hosted by the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the MLA in Seattle. Whereas in the past, the annual meetings had only the PNCMLA, this year promises to be the most exciting event to date since all four Western chapters of the MLA will be meeting together, including Hawaii-Pacific Chapter (HPCMLA); the Medical Library Group of Southern California & Arizona (MLGSCA); and the Northern California & Nevada Medical Library Group (NCNMLG) at a meeting hosted by the Pacific Northwest Chapter (PNCMLA) of the Medical Library Association.

Events will include presentation from speakers, continuing education sessions, roundtable luncheons, and poster sessions. (It's not too late. There's still time for signing up!)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Search Continues

I recently encountered one of the toughest questions to date. This one nearly blew my mind out when I first skimmed it over. Where to start? How to start? What is it? (And, what have I gotten myself into?)

We are attempting to build a scale out of our
Attitudes and Expectancy data. A starting reference point is Brown, Christiansen and Goldman 1987 – Journal of Studies on Alcohol Sept. 48(5), 483-491.

If these references fully explain the methodology for the development of the Alcohol Expectancy questionnaire, you can move on to…

Other attempts at building an expectancy profile exist around the Iceberg Profile – from the Profile of Mood States questionnaire.

You can also look at scale development in Item Response Theory information…

We are looking for scales that have been developed in the exact same way as we hope to, and/or the Alcohol Expectancy Questionnaire was developed.

After a few gin & tonics, and some LIS training and search experience under my belt, I thought it would be interesting to take this on as an information professional at the ref desk. Here is what I did: (1) Find the article. Read it. Analyze it. I used PubMed, which has a "single citation match" feature which allows us to enter a the author's name, volume, issue, and page number to find the article, if a title is not provided. And wouldn't you know it, PubMed indeed came up with the title I needed, plus an abstract!

(2) I then moved onto the the UBC Library Subject Guides. The challenge is that the multi-disciplinary nature of the topic at hand. My first inclination is to start off in Psychology. Yet, other life sciences topics are equally pertinent (i.e. nursing and social work). Even within medicine, different disciplines are relevant.

(3) Thus, starting with PsychInfo, I eventually cover what I feel are the other main indexes & databases: CINAHL, Embase, Medline, and Web of Science. I also cover the free online databases: Google Scholar, SCIRUS, and Tripdatabase. Interestingly, Academic Search Premiere, a multidisciplinary database proved to be one of the most useful as numerous useful hits came up.

(4) With the search tools mapped out, the next step is to come up with some search terms. It took quite some experimentation, using many different combinations of terms. But in the end, I used (1) "alcohol expectancy questionnaire" and "scale development". (2) "Iceberg profile"; (3) "profile of mood states questionnaire" and "scale development"; (4) "Item response theory" and "scale development". Some interesting results did come up. Any ideas on how to improve upon this fairly rag-tag approach?

Allan's Library Blog 2.0

And we're off! Change for this blog has forever been at the back of my mind throughout the latter stages of the summer; I've been planning how to establish a new look for quite a while. (Not to say that the previous design wasn't adequate -- it was time for a change). Here's the push that paved the way for this to be done: LIBR 534 - Health Information Sources and Services, a course which I am taking at the moment. It was exactly the spark that was necessary for igniting this change to hopefully a bigger and better, more informative web log. Hence, my upcoming blog entries will have a more health information-related theme.

For my first posting, I'd like to go historical and introduce Andreas Vesalius, who was an anatomist and author of one of the most influential books on human anatomy, De Humani Corporis Fabrica (translated, it is "On the Workings of the Human Body"). This expensive piece of work can be found at UBC's Woodward Biomedical Library's Charles Woodward Memorial Room.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

It's here! (Finally)

Something looks different with Google Scholar. I had a quizzical frown when I made a search on Google Scholar. Along with the usual result hits was a "related articles" feature which look surprisingly similar to PubMed's. While its citation analysis feature matched Web of Science's, Google Scholar had always lacked a function which allows searchers to find related articles.

But it's here now! And it's here to stay! The searching just got a little easier, and much more comprehensive. To read more, you go to Google's Blog for further analysis.

And if you look closely, Google's blog has linked this posting. Amazingly, it only took a few hours for them to crawl it, too.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Google Scholar for the Humanities and Social Sciences

It's training week as a Graduate Academic Assistant at the Humanities and Social Sciences Division at UBC's Koerner Library. My interviewers at HSS weren't kidding when they asked me if I was prepared for boot camp during the last week of August. They were smiling when they said it, and I naively assumed they were facetious. How wrong I was!

The training has been wonderful though; it's enough to last me for the next few jobs. While I've been introduced to the wide array of areas and subjects of HSS librarianship, including maps & atlas, government publications, journals and microforms, and even numeric data files, nothing could prepare me for the reference desk training, which has been gruelling to say the least (but very educational).

One very special tool that I had taken away with me from my library and research experience at the Biomedical Branch Library at VGH, Hamber Library at the Children's and Women's Health Centre, as well as the Centre of Applied Research for Mental Health and Addictions has been my experience working with PubMed and Google Scholar.

First, Google Scholar. One handy little skill that I've picked up is finding articles which have incomplete citations. By simply typing in part of the title (with quotations around it), chances are that the article or abstract will be available. And from a campus networked computer, the link might even have full-article access via e-link. Prior to Google Scholar, this was mainly possible only through Web of Science, which was limited to the Sciences. However, Google Scholar has opened the door (if only ajar) for the humanities and social sciences.

Second, PubMed. To date, there is still no tool in the humanities and social sciences which can compare to the amazing usefulness of PubMed's ability to search for incomplete citations. At GAA training, we're taught to use a variety of methods, from going to Subject Guides to consulting Wikipedia when searching for articles with incomplete or incorrect citations. However, in the health sciences, one can simply enter the author and page number or year of publication, and voila: the article can be retrieved quite easily, and often with links to similar articles. As I am perfecting the art of searching, I keep hearkening back to PubMed and wonder, wouldn't it be more effective if we also do the same for other subject areas? With so many database vendors (Ebsco, Wilson, Lexis Nexis) all in dire competition with each other, I doubt that there will be a day when one database will do it all. Or am I wrong?

Friday, August 25, 2006

Demise of LIS?

The recent announcement of the dissolution of the School of Informatics at the University of Buffalo is another example of the marginalization of the profession and discipline of Library and Information Science. Its abandonment isn't the first, nor will it be the last.

Why are library schools still being closed down even though the need for information specialists continue to rise? Is it the stale image of the librarian? Is it the measly wages? Regardless of the reasons, academia seem to enjoy pushing LIS programs around. (Michael Lorenzen's "Education Schools and Library Schools: A Comparison of Their Perceptions by Academia" offers a fascinating analysis). In the ugly case of the LIS program at Buffalo, it was first the merger with the Department of Communications in 2001, then now, the arbitrary insertion into the Faculty of Education. It's gotten so bad that the library school barely passed ALA accreditation (it's been given a "conditional" status).

When will the madness stop? It's time for information professionals to stand up and do something.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Good to Great

If there's but one business book you ever read in your life, Good To Great should be on the shortlist. Jim Collins, a former Stanford Graduate School of Business professor and his research team discovered that there are seven similarities that all successful organizations encompass. I highly recommend this book because its points are relevant to not only for profit businesses, but also libraries and similar organizations. Here are the books main findings:

(1) First "Who", Then "What" - Hire the right people, then formulate a plan. It sounds strange, but based on his research of American companies, Collins unveils the fact that all the successful ones are run by Level 5 Leaders, humble individuals who put their organizations before themselves, who would do anything and everything to achieve success for their company, not for themselves. Although they are often shy and humble, they possess steel determination to get things done. Such people will recruit similar individuals; moreover, once the team is created, the leader will set up their successors for even greater success in the next generation.

(2) Confront the Brutal Facts (Yet Never Lost Faith) - Success is not achieved in one day. All successful companies were built over a long stretch, day by day, bit by bit. Using the Stockdale Paradox an analogy, companies that drop out are those who are most optimistic, who often base their strategies on lofty goals within shortest timeframe possible. The successful ones don't use a clock to time progress; they use patience and faith, never knowing when they'll achieve success, but only that it will happen eventually.

(3) The Hedgehog Concept - When the right and patient people are on board, only then can a plan be formulated. Taking Isaiah Berlin's analogy of the hedgehog and the fox, in which the "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing," Collins argues that great companies have one idea and sticks by it no matter what, whereas mediocre organizations are all over the map and changes directions on a dime.

(4) A Culture of Discipline - When there is discipline, hierarchy is no longer needed. With disciplined thought, the same goes for bureaucracy. Hence, the best companies are those with employees who are hardworking, respectful, and ultimately enjoy what they are doing.

(5) Technology Accelerators - Great companies think differently about the role of technology. They never use it ignite transformation; rather, they apply technology to forward their hedgehog concept, the big overall plan.

(6) The Flywheel and the Doom Loop - Success cannot occur like a revolution; there is never a "defining" miracle moment. Instead, it happens in small increments (like a wheel), turn upon turn, and building momentum slowly and steadily.

(7) Built to Last - Success and greatness are not defined by money. Instead, the goal is intrinsic excellence, simply creating something so that it can endure and be meaningful at the same time . Hence, I find the book intriguing because it is not only limited to businesses. It can be applied to any type of organization. It's worth a read, even if one is not looking to build a corporate dynasty.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Informationist of the 21st Century

Things are coming together. And a session for UBC Pharmacy residents titled, Search skills for UBC pharmacy residents:Appraised tools, PubMed and even Google provided the perfect capstone. What I had originally anticipated as a teaching session turned out to be much more than I had expected, for the 2.5 long session gave me greater insight into the role of the information professional within the entire rubric of the field of health science and medicine.

Things finally make sense now. I must say I disagree with Pharmacists and Reference Librarians, a blog entry that had confounded me when I first encountered it a while back ago. It argues that the reference librarian is not far off from the pharmacist, for both have lost their relevance - the librarian to search engines while the pharmacist to the retail drug companies.

But that is a gross overstatement. If anything, working in two different hospital libraries as well as a health science research centre has given me the knowledge, experience, and skills to confidently say that the information professional plays a huge role. First, a project at CARMHA on primary care, revealed that pharmacists are on the often on the "front lines" of healthcare, for they are often the first to be consulted by patients with medical inquiries. Pharmacists are much more than mere pill counters. And second, introducing an academic to Google Scholar proved to be not only a humbling experience, but also a reminder of how far off we are to being a truly "information society."

With evidence-based medicine (EBM) ever so important in the health professions, pharmacists are needed and expected to have solid information searching and retrieval skills. This is where the librarian/information professional comes in. We not only find information and teach others (such as pharmacists) information literacy, but we also have a mandate to keep up to date with new findings and techniques on such new technologies. Hence, how can one not vehemently rebuke that pharmacy is "just a bit further along the road to annihilation than librarianship is"? It's perhaps appropriate for the informationist stand up and take a bow.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

If You Build It, They Will Come

What makes a “good” post-secondary institutional library? Is it the collections? The atmosphere? Or the photocopiers? Unfortunately, students rarely (usually never) visit libraries to attend a teaching session by a particular librarian as they would for a well-published academic professor. Frade and Washburn’s recent article, The University Library:
The Center of a University Education?
studies the recent trends of how the library is being used by its patrons.

Not surprisingly, numbers are down: there are simply less people walking through the gates. The survey reveals that two core library services, instruction and reference, were ranked very low in terms of patron’s importance. Rather, the study found that patrons came to the library for study, using the internet and computer labs, copy machines, courtesy phones, and signing out books.

In the second part of the research, the study found that two services increased the usage of the library: (1) extended hours; and (2) the implementation of an Information Commons. Interestingly, usage statistics increased during the extended hours, particularly in the area of the IC’s, where there are multimedia computer workstations and plenty of study space are located.

The study doesn’t surprise me much. The library will always be the core of the academic institution. Perhaps times have changed. Although reference and instruction may not be as highly regarded as in the past, that doesn’t render the library and the librarian as ineffective. Far from it, the library will forever be a place where learning and quiet study takes place. As many institutions are advocating cutting back hours to keep costs intact, the library seems the most convenient scapegoat, and hours are particularly the easiest to lop since apparently the numbers are down.

But are they? As this study shows, perhaps more emphasis needs to be placed on tracking when patrons are entering the gates. Unlike bookstores, which keeps statistics on hourly gate counts, most libraries do not (not even the big ones). Just cutting back the hours without careful consultation is clearly a costly mistake, for both the patron and the library itself.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Future Library or Traditionalist Paranoia?

Jeannette Woodward's Creating the Customer-Driven Library: Building on the Bookstore Model offers fascinating insights into the emerging bookstore-concept library. Woodward argues that, for the library to not only survive, but thrive, it must adapt to the retail bookstore model of tailoring services and products to the tastes of the patron. The Richmond Public Library has adopted this philosophy almost to the tee. However, what makes it unique also makes it controversial. Here's why:

(1) Customers service - The RPL prefers "customer" over "patrons." It's all semantics, but behind this innocuous phrase is a pure concept of pleasing the person who steps through the gates. In a way, is not every library's mandate essentially the same, particularly for "public" libraries?

(2) Merchandise - Calling books "products" seems weird, but referring to them as "merchandise" might be ludicrous for some. Put it any way you like, a duck is a duck. Quack, quack. Nonetheless, language does make a difference in the way human cognition operates. By focusing on promoting the items in the library, it does highlight the importance of what is at stake. Is it a bad thing to "sell" what you have?

(3) Self-service checkouts - 95% of the circulation is done by self-service automation. Even holds are self-service. Understandably, traditionalists are upset that such a trend will ultimately displace the library staff, namely the paraprofessional and support staff. The RPL disagrees. It believes that such a system frees up staff to do other customer-service tasks.

(4) "Walking the floor" - In adopting this retail concept, the customer will always be served and the products continually replenished. Staff members are to proactively walk around the stacks and offer assistance to those in need. However, at the RPL, this is the case for certain sections, namely the Popular Titles section, where it is an amazingly dynamic area of the building.

(5) Automated scheduling - Democracy or pseudo-outsourcing? Call it what you will, by allowing auxiliary staff to pick and choose their own schedules, the RPL allows ultimate flexibility. But why not just hire more full-time staff instead of piecemeal? By doing so, the RPL argues that it maximizes on the full potential of its open hours (it has the longest hours of any public library system in North America). But does it to save in other areas?

(6) Themes - To a certain extent, this is not new. However, RPL takes it to another level, and offers new themes regularly, such as "Asian Reads" or "Biography Lovers." In such themed areas, books are picked off the shelves and placed together.

(7) Outsourcing of cataloguing - RPL doesn't create its own catalogues. Nor does it even copy-catalogue. Everything is done by contract. Does it work? Well, it does free up the essential revenue for other areas, such as the latest DVD's and more newer titles. In the end, the question is, does the customer/patron benefit?

(8) Reference - The traditional reference desk, where the librarian snuggly sits for hours on end, quietly working away on the computer is replaced by Information kiosks.

(9) Signage - Not unlike bookstores, RPL's sign are sharp and attractive. The signs say it all. "Kids Place" replaces the traditional Children's section. Is it a sellout to the bookstore? Or are we simply using a good, simple idea and applying it to the library?

(10) Coffee machines - Traditionalists cringe at the thought of drinking in the library. However, RPL promotes it by having machines right inside. Although somewhat teleological, Woodward argues that since patrons are going to drink/eat at home with the books, we should perhaps be at peace with the inevitable.

So far, RPL has been very successful. In my opinion, location is everything. Gate counts are one of the highest in Canada. Yet, what works in Richmond might not work in Abbotsford or Victoria. The demographics in Richmond make sense: young, hip, urban, and middle class. The sleekness of the RPL suits such a chic clientele. But will such a model last? Time will tell.