Monthly Archives: September 2008

The Mark of Zotero

This just in, via beSpacificReuters is suing George Mason University for violating the Endnote TOS. Apparently (though I’m not sure I really understand the issue – this news story is very cryptic) Reuters claims the organization violated the terms of service when they analyzed ways to convert style files from Endnote to Zotero. Reuters (parent company of ISI, parent company of Endnote) accuses Zotero’s programmers of reverse-engineering Endnote files to make the conversion possible and that this threatens to destroy their customer base.

Some chat at Zotero suggests the legality of using the style files (many of which were contributed by users of Endnote) to be a bit murky. Some bloggers say the allegation is false, and that this is a SLAP suit. Others wonder if this means anyone who migrates their citations from Endnote to something else are equally liable. (Of course, anyone who has tried to import Web of Knowledge citations into RefWorks knows the company is not happy with competition and is willing to sacrifice user satisfaction on that altar.)

And hey, couldn’t MLA, Chicago, APA, and CBE sue Reuters for reverse-engineering their style manuals and destroying their customer base? Just asking.

Want to follow the paper trail? The Disruptive Library Technology Jester explains how. And Jystar raises a fascinating issue: “law suits like this really make me wonder if the current scheme of intellectual property law in the US actually fosters innovation. or … fosters bullying and enables large corporations, backed by lots of money and lawyers, to edge out any smaller competition, even if the competition is superior?”

Good question.

UPDATE 10/06: Michael Feldstein at e-literate, who at first thought Reuters might have a point, has learned more about the claims and now thinks … they probably have misrepresented what Zotero did. Via a comment at the Chron.

There’s now much talk of boycotting Thomson/Reuters. Given the number of companies and products involved, it may be hard to do since they own Westlaw, ISI, Findlaw, all kinds of business, financial, medical, and accounting resources, not to mention the Reuters news service.

Getting Your Ideas Out There First

Academic librarians are generally not competitive types. If we were we’d probably have gone to business school. But that competitive spirit may show up when it comes to presentations and publications. Getting a paper or panel accepted for ACRL’s 14th National Conference in Seattle was certainly a highly competitive process with just a twenty percent acceptance rate. Another arena in which we compete is getting our articles and books published. That’s why I found the article in this week’s Chronicle about authors racing to publish books on the same topic of interest. We don’t talk about this much in our academic librarian conversations but I hazard a guess that it is something many of us have experienced. As we write our papers or books on our original ideas we wonder if there is someone else out there who’ll get their manuscript – on our idea – to an editor before we do.

I know I certainly had this in the back of mind as I worked my way through the book I was writing in 2006 that was published in 2007. I believed it was an original topic – for our profession at least. I certainly knew of no other articles written or presentations on the same topic. Yet I really had no way of knowing if someone else out there was writing about the same topic. While I had been thinking during the writing process about starting a blog on the same topic - which is becoming a more accepted way to begin getting your ideas out there and to get comments and feedback while writing – it also struck me as a way to claim my stake to this whole area of study (new for librarianship at least). Think of it as a pre-emptive strike. Of course, that would probably not mean all that much if someone else had published a book on the same topic before my own (by the way, co-authored with John Shank). It turns out I had little to worry about. Only just recently have I noticed a few bloggers mentioning the application of design to the librarians’ work process or the idea of the library user experience. Unlike the batch of competing books about Web 2.0, this book about design has pretty much had the field to itself.

That said, I’m open to more librarians thinking and writing about design thinking. The more librarians that begin conversations about it the more librarians who will think about these ideas more seriously – which is what I hoped to accomplish in the first place. Still, unlike the authors profiled in the Chronicle article, I’m glad that I didn’t experience discovering another author writing a similar book at the same time. No one likes to appear competitive, but when it happens to you it can be pretty distressing.

Now, if your challenge is more specific to problems encountered in trying to write about your ideas then you should give some thought to a good idea discussed in another article in the same issue of the Chronicle. Get yourself a personal writing coach. That’s right. The next time you need help getting started or getting over your writing block, ring up your coach and let him or her help to figure out why you are having trouble – and more importantly get you writing again. Impossible you say. You could never afford it. Well, you may actually be able to get some help for free. Were you aware that the ACRL College Library Section offers a program called “Your Research Coach“. The program, run by the Section’s Research Committee, will connect aspiring writers and presenters with more experienced colleagues (they are actually called “coaches”) who can help with idea formation, methodology, research strategies, etc. Sometimes just talking over a writing hurdle can be a big help. I participate as a coach and I know I’ve been able to help a few folks just by listening to their ideas and then sharing some advice or steering them in a certain direction. The only requirement is that you need to be an ACRL member.

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

There’s Harvard and Then There Are “Lesser Libraries”

Does the name Robert Darnton ring a bell? No? Maybe it should. After all, Darnton is the Director of the Harvard University Libraries. As I read the most recent Annual Report of the Harvard Libraries I discovered who Darnton was when I read his “message” at the front of the Report. This quote got my attention:

Lesser libraries may rely on Google, JSTOR, and whatever they can harvest from the Internet, but Harvard has a responsibility to keep up with the production of scholarship by increasing its acquisitions of books–old-fashioned books, print on paper…No other university library has contracted such a heavy obligation, because none can compare with Harard in the depth and breadth of its collections.

Well I’ll certainly sleep more soundly at night knowing that the future of civilization is safe as long as Harvard continues to amass its huge collections. In the meantime I’ll slink back into my “lesser library” where we’ll try to get by gleaning information from Google. According to the latest ARL Library Investment Index (just issued about two weeks ago) Harvard Libraries, ranked first, spends $33 million more and has 500 more staff than the second ranked library (Yale). I guess that gives Darnton the right to refer to all other libraries as “lesser”.

Are We Placing Too Little Emphasis On TOC Alerts

They provide an easy and powerful way to stay up-to-date with journal literature but I wonder if, when it comes to our faculty, we are doing too little to promote Table of Contents alerts. Nearly every major aggregator database and e-journal collection has this feature. The problem is that without someone bringing it to your attention you’d hardly know it was there. A recent study into the behaviors of faculty for locating scholarly material suggest that TOC alerts are highly valued. “How Readers Navigate to Scholarly Content” is a new report published by Simon Inger and Tracy Gardner for a consortium of scholarly publishers, including the Nature Publishing Group, that examines how scholars start their search for content and how they navigate different search resources. There is both good and bad news for academic librarians. Depending on what they’re trying to do and how much information they have, scholars may go right to a known library database or their favorite search engine. But figure 5 (pg. 18 of 32) asks “how often do you follow links to a publisher’s e-journal web site from these starting points” and TOC alerts is far and away the top starting point – that got my attention. Perhaps it’s time to recognize that we need to do a better job of making faculty aware of TOC alerts. We may be underestimating their value.

Got My ALA Midwinter Hotel – Darn Easy Too!

If I don’t manage to reserve my first choice ALA/ACRL conference hotel room within 30 minutes of the opening bell then I consider myself a failure. For me this process actually begins about two weeks prior to the start of the reservation process. I do a detailed review of the available conference hotels, analyzing all the amenities, prices and locations so that I can get the optimal reservation. For me that includes making certain the hotel has a fitness room – and it has to be open 24 hours. I also check to make sure there is free internet in the room – don’t believe what they tell you on the ALA site. I’m an early riser so I make sure I can get breakfast by 6 am or 6:30 at the latest. Pricewise I’m looking at the low end of the spectrum. Those are my top priorities. I don’t care about coffee makers, flat screen televisions or nightly turndown service. So I narrow it down to the four or so hotels that seem to best meet my criteria. I then proceed to the hotels’ websites to see if they actually do meet my criteria. Then I call each to confirm which ones will actually make the cut. The next step is to compile all the data and then rank the hotels from first to last choice.

On September 2 at 9 am EST I logged on to the conference site and first took advantage of the bundled registration to sign up for midwinter and annual – and saved a few bucks. I was then seamlessly shifted to the hotel registration process. ALA is running on all cylinders with this easy, new combined conference/hotel registration process! Within five minutes I’d booked a room at my first choice hotel – an optimal mix of low price, location and amenities. It’s a bit more work in advance but I think it definitely pays off on the day registration opens. ACRL in Seattle? Done! Same joint conference/hotel registration process. Fast and easy. Since I liked the hotel where I stayed in January 2007 for ALA Midwinter I just chose it again. You know, I sort of missed doing my conference hotel analysis. Well, there’s always ALA Annual in Chicago. If you usually procrastinate on the hotel registration process, think about giving my method a try – unless you really prefer a last minute reservation at that fleabag motel on the outskirts of town.

Dumber Students Or Out Of Touch Academics

Are students getting dumber or are the academics working with them just getting more out of touch with those they teach? That debate has been hanging around for a while and now the noise level is increasing by more than a few decibles. I first wrote about this back in January 2006 when I discussed Mark Bauerlein’s observations about intellectually disengaged students. Even further back than that I published an essay in the Chronicle (2/4/04) called “The Infodiet” in which I pointed to the failings of the library profession’s desire to “googleize” search and retrieval systems, and questioned if our role as library educators wasn’t instead to help students learn effective research methods and critical thinking – and refusing to fall for the “good enough” mentality when it comes to research.

Bauerlein went on to write The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (2008). This book and others were profiled in an article titled “On Stupidity about several recent books that question the thinking ability of today’s students. The article’s author, Thomas Benton, shares his own observations that point to an increase in ignorance among his students. Just recently Benton published a follow-up essay in which he focuses on strategies that educators can use to help students become more savvy learners and critical thinkers. I was interested to see that among his greatest concerns for this generation of students is their:

difficulty following or making extended analytical arguments. In particular, they tend to use easily obtained, superficial, and unreliable online sources as a way of satisfying minimal requirements for citations rather than seeking more authoritative sources in the library and online. Without much evidence at their disposal, they tend to fall back on their feelings, which are personal and, they think, beyond questioning.

On the other hand, Benton thinks Bauerlein and those who see a generation of stupider students are not exactly correct, and questions if it isn’t the teacher who needs to change. He writes:

I am still suspicious of studies that proclaim the inferiority of the rising generation. We’ve all been the young whippersnappers at some point, frightening our elders, and many of us are, no doubt, destined to become grumpy old nostalgics in turn. As a teacher, I would prefer to think my students are the ones with the most promise; they are attuned to what is happening in the culture, even if they still have much to learn.

In this follow up Benton’s goal is to share ideas on how the current generation of faculty can do a better job of connecting with and teaching the millennial generation. While Benton agrees to an extent with those who say faculty do need to be more in tune with the way their students learn and how it is defined by their digital upbringing, he says that the bottom line is students still have to learn.

I do appreciate that he believes using the library, reading books and doing thoughtful research can help students to be more knowledgeable. He advocates that faculty should be “Getting students into the library and getting real books into their hands” and “Teaching them how to evaluate the credibility of sources: why Wikipedia, though useful, is less reliable than, say, the Dictionary of American Biography.” It would be even better if Benton had urged faculty to collaborate with their librarian colleagues to help students learn these skills, but I’m hopeful that just having faculty read this advice will encourage them to seek out librarians who can help them to help their students become better researchers, readers and writers.

If you are interested in this issue and would like an opportunity to engage in a conversation about it with your colleagues you may want to join in a free webcast event I’ll be co-hosting with my colleague John Shank at the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community on Thursday, October 2, 2008 at 3:00 pm EST. I’m pleased that Mark Herring, Dean of Library Services at Winthrop University, will be our guest to lead the discussion. He has written some excellent essays and a book related to the topic. Here is a description of the webcast “Dumbest Younger Generation or Clueless Older Educators: What Librarians Can Do To Promote Student Excellence” :

A wave of books and articles, including Mark Bauerlein’s The Dumbest Generation, are calling attention to the declining analytical skills of college students. They read far less. They seem incapable of critical thought and debate. They take the research path of least resistance. And perhaps worst of all, they seem above constructive criticism. Is digital technology at the root of the dumber generation or is technology simply a convenient scapegoat? Some technology advocates, such as Marc Prensky, suggest that the students are fine, and that the educators are the ones who need to change their ways. Join your colleagues for a discussion of these issues at the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community on Thursday, October 2, 2008 at 3:00 pm eastern time. We will be joined by Mark Herring who will frame the issues and share his thoughts about why librarians should be concerned about them – and what we can do to make a difference.

If you are already a member of the community go here to register. If not, go here to join - and then register. I hope you will join in the conversation.

Information is Power – Even When it’s Wrong

Here is a guest post from Amy Fry, a San Diego-based librarian with whom I’ve done some research on aggregated databases. She was struck by the way a sloppy mistake in handling information led to a plunge in a company’s stock prices – and what the implications might be for information literacy. If you’re low on energy and thinking a cup of strong coffee might wake you up – hang on; this post might just do the trick.

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On September 8, a reporter for Income Securities Advisors, using Google, found a 2002 article from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel about United Airlines’ bankruptcy. The article was undated in the paper’s archive, but used a site header displaying the current date, so the Google News crawler, indexing the site Saturday night, applied the date of September 6, 2008 to the story. Mistakenly identifying the article as current, the reporter summarized it and sent it to her editor, who posted it to the ISA wire service. Aggregated by Bloomberg (though independent from Bloomberg News), the headline was seen by Wall Street traders, and even though the company caught the mistake and removed the headline within 13 minutes (and Bloomberg itself posted a correction), a trading frenzy had already caught hold causing United to lost 75% of its stock value in under an hour.

This story contains a powerful lesson about information literacy.

One: Proper metadata is important.

Metadata experts have been trying for years to promote universal standards for describing and applying information about content objects, online and elsewhere, and this is why. Why was this article undated when other articles from the same news archive were dated, and how can a header date be mistaken for the date of unaffiliated content? The answer is: improper application and use of metadata. One reason we teach students to use library resources is that we believe that properly indexed information, with standard subject headings and descriptive metadata that is uniformly formatted and properly mapped, aids the user in finding and evaluating information. As this story shows, such indexing can also help information seekers avoid costly mistakes. The problem of universal metadata standards is complicated, but our hard work as information scientists is not wasted in solving it.

Two: There is no substitute for critical thinking about sources.

The reporter, and her editor, did not think critically about where her information was coming from and why it might require a second glance. Even if she didn’t have the background to already know that United had declared and emerged from bankruptcy within the last 10 years, proper critical thinking about sources should have caused her to ask why this story was being fed to her first through Google News from a south Florida Tribune-affiliate instead of the Wall Street Journal or another primary information source of financial news. We teach students to examine a variety of points to determine the authority of an information source, like an identifiable author, author affiliation, publisher and publisher affiliation, traceable references, and external peer review. All of these can help them ascertain if sources they find are reliable, even if they do not have extensive prior exposure to the subject of their research question. This story proves that there are no shortcuts to determining the authority of sources, and no substitute for critical thinking.

Three: Sometimes aggregators are misleading.

Aggregators play a valuable, but complicated, role in information provision. Bloomberg not only provides information to its subscribers – it also aggregates information from other services and packages this information with its own. Operating under the “more is more” and “bigger is better” philosophy has become commonplace in the world of information aggregation, and librarians tend to agree (see Fister, Gilbert and Fry in the July 2008 issue of portal). But, as this story shows, it comes with certain pitfalls. Aggregators have neither the means nor the desire to vet every item of information they provide in their products, but the distinction between their role as aggregator and their role as authoritative information provider is blurred. Often their own status lends authority to the information they package – touted as unintended when that information proves to be faulty. As this story demonstrates, more oversight of aggregators and by aggregators, and a demand of quality over quantity, should be a priority for librarians, especially in this age of information overload.

Four: Google is more powerful than we even realized.

If any one of you has been underestimating the role of Google in the information food chain, STOP. Google has enormous power to direct culture through the control of information. While the company sticks to its mantra of “Don’t Be Evil,” this story proves that high-stakes real-world results can be achieved in moments through Google without Google’s knowledge or intervention and even without intentional sabotage. Google has changed the way we find, use and even produce information – but with great power comes even greater responsibility. Librarians have raised important points about the ethical dimensions of private information ownership in conjunction with the Google Books digitization project. We have warned students to be careful when using Google as a research tool. A private company is not required to act in the public interest. Academic librarians, as educators, are. As more and more information is accessed through and archived by private companies (for example, despite its content, EEBO is still a proprietary resource), librarians must take on greater responsibilities as watchdogs for the public interest. Even if our roles are changing, our mission must not.