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.