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.