Monthly Archives: March 2006

I-Schools Bring Us A “Credibility Commons”

This morning’s CHE announces the launch of the newest collaboration between Syracuse’s Dave Lankes and Washington’s Mike Eisenberg – the Credibility Commons – a research project aimed at helping people to understand the many issues related to the credibility of information found on the Internet and to develop tools aimed at helping people to locate credible information on a range of topics.

I haven’t had time to read all the materials now available through the site, so I don’t know how Dave and Mike have linked this project to their long-time support for information literacy instruction (which strikes me as the most basic “practical approach” to helping people to find credible information on the Internet, i.e., the ability to articulate why something is credible according to standards other than appearance, consonance with one’s own views, etc.). I am sure the link is there and that it is strong. There aren’t too many LIS faculty members in whom I have more trust than these two.

Still, I would have liked to have seen a library listed among the project partners. As the CC partners write “There are few professions better suited to the world of credibility on the Internet than librarians.” I look forward to hearing how we’ll be able to contribute to this project and brings its results home to our daily practice.

Trend Or Transformation

Did you wake up thinking about the scholarly publishing crisis this morning? Probably not, because most of us are paying attention to other issues and taking for granted that someone else is doing something about the crisis. Well, this past Friday I did have the scholarly publishing crisis on my mind because I was going to a presentation by Ray English, Director of Libraries at Oberlin College. You must know Ray – he’s the latest winner of the ACRL Academic/Research Librarian of the Year award. But he’s also well known for his advocacy work in the area of the scholarly publishing crisis. As a small university library director I think less about the scholarly publishing crisis and the open access alternatives than I should. English’s presentation was the excellent overview of the issues that I needed. He covered the latest developments, the changes needed, the positive trends, and most of all, what librarians can do to create change. Here are some of the highlights:

* “It’s about access, stupid” – All the scholarly publishing crisis issues are related to access – loss of it , barriers to it, access to scholarship by users, access to publishing monographics; the failures to provide access are systemic and interrelated.

* Consolidation in the journal publishing industry produces price increases. When Elsevier acquired Pergemon, the Pergamon titles increased by 27%. When Kluwer acquired Lippincott the titles increased by 30%. See www.informationaccess.org for more info on industry consolidation.

* What if you owned this business? Someone else produces your product for you at no cost – they polish it up for you at your request – they even give you exclusive rights to it – then all you do is distribute it – and you get to sell it back to the people who produced your product at a good profit. Sounds like a pretty good business, right.

* The value of open access is that it provides better access for more readers. That access fosters science and technology progress and the growth of knowledge.

* There are signs of hope. We’re becoming more active – that’s good. This is becoming a national issue that governments are taking up. Faculty engagement in the issues is growing. There is cause for optimism – this may be resolved in our lifetimes.

That brief review doesn’t really do justice to the awareness English creates when he lectures about the scholarly publishing crisis and open access. For example, he also talked about disciplinary and institutional archives as possible alternatives for the distribution of scholarly research. Things got more interesting in the afternoon session when a panel of faculty members and a scholarly journal editor debated some of the issues with English. William Walters, collection development librarian at Millersville University previewed a paper (will be published in Journal of the ASIST in 2007) on institutional journal costs in an open access environment. How much would colleges and universities pay for their journals if all journals adopted open access pricing? He indicated that large research universities would not achieve savings in an open access model owing to the large author fees that would have to be collected to sustain the open access publications. Steven Weintraub, a scholarly journal editor and math professor at Lehigh University, spoke out against author fees. Tracey DePellegin Connelly, Managing Editor of GENETICS, talked about the costs involved in producing a journal and some open access friendly moves they are implementing.

I was fascinated by the discussion of journal impact factors. English said that the scholarly publishing crisis is systemic and has deep roots that will be difficult to change. There were some discussions about how “publish or perish” and current tenure and promotion methods contribute to the scholarly publishing crisis. I will finish with this anecdote from the program that relates to these issues. I commented to Walters that his choice of ASIST for an article on open access struck me as odd. I suggested that D-Lib or First Monday would have seemed more appropriate venues for his research – and that these open access journals would allow his article to reach a wide audience and many more practitioners that need this information. I asked Walters what influenced his decision to publish this article in ASIST rather than the other two. His answer was simple. He said, “impact factor”.

“Searching for Dummies”

The New York Times has an op-ed piece by Edward Tenner that propsoses this paradox: Google has made it possible to find good information easily, so students have become less skilled at research. Nothing new in that argument, really, and it’s nice to see the words “information literacy” on the Sunday op ed pages, but he gives Google more credit that in deserves when he says old-style search engines had to be coaxed to cough up the German composer “Engelbert Humperdinck” through clever uses of the not operator whereas Google’s improved search immediately put the composer on the same page as the singer. I doubt that’s due to Google’s methods. And that’s not the only non-sequiter in the article.

What’s more interesting is the coincidental position of this essay on the same page as Byron Calame’s Public Editor column, the weekly review of what’s wrong (and sometimes what’s right) at the Times. The embarrassment of the week? A front page report that gullibly profiled a man who said he was the man under the hood in the photo that became an icon of the Abu Ghraib scandal. The reporters looked for previous stories about the hooded man, but missed the one that named the correct victim. The story, an 1100-word feature following up on Abu Ghraib detainees, was obviously of interest, but the word “hood” wasn’t used to describe the man in the photo, so they missed it, searching only for stories that mentioned “Abu Ghraib,” “box,” and “hood.”

Obviously, there were other fact-check failures in this story, but this happens to provide a much better example of what Tenner is trying to say than any that he used. When you rely entirely on the granularity of search engines (whether Google or the archive of your own paper) and a few choice words, you’re bound to run into a 101: Human Error message: language is flexible and concepts can be expressed and categorized in many different yet meaningful ways. It isn’t – and never should be – the only way to search.

As students will tell you, you can always find something that way. You just may miss the thing you need most.

Atkinson, 2003 ACRL Academic/Research Librarian Of The Year, Passes Away

As reported on Library Journal’s news page:

Ross Atkinson, the Cornell University, NY, associate university librarian for collections, has died at the age of 60 after a lengthy battle with cancer. Most recently, Atkinson played a large role in Cornell University Library’s Janus Conference, which focused on collection development. Over the years, he was heavily involved with the American Library Association’s Association for Library Collections & Technical Services, which commended Atkinson in 2001. “We have lost a great man,” said Cornell University Librarian Sarah Thomas. “I feel in many ways it is the end of an era. He was so brilliant and so passionate about bringing scholarship to scholars and about fairness and democratic access.”

I never had the pleasure of meeting Ross Atkinson, but he was well known to many academic librarians for his unique contributions to the profession. I have tremendous admiration for ACRL Academic/Research Librarians of the Year – it’s like getting into the Hall of Fame for academic librarians. Ross Atkinson will be missed.