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?