My poster from UM iSchool's Research Day

(by Christina Pikas) Mar 11 2014

Pikas research day 2014 poster from Christina Pikas

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Great presentation on ebook hassles

(by Christina Pikas) Mar 11 2014

Trying to explain to people about some ebooks is just miserable. Springer is the notable exception. Their stuff just works and is findable.

Enjoy this from Joelle Thomas and Galadriel Chilton:

ER&L 2014 Never Mind I'll Just Buy It: Why Library Users Won't Jump Through Your Hoops from Galadriel Chilton

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Recommended in a book!

(by Christina Pikas) Mar 04 2014

What a pleasant surprise!

I was just glancing through:

Fosmire, M. (2013). Sudden selector's guide to physics resources. Chicago: ALA. Available online at:

When I saw this:

Christina Pikas,
Christina’s LIS Rant

An outspoken and knowledgeable SLA PAM member, Pikas is a force of nature, and her blog provides commentary on scholarly communication, science librarianship, conference summaries, and life as a doctoral student

More incentive to keep posting, and keep talking about science librarianship :)

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Re-post: What types of expertise do librarians have?

(by Christina Pikas) Feb 28 2014

There's a discussion of librarian expertise on FriendFeed right now in the LSW room. It prompted me to look for this post and when I realized how long ago it was I decided to repost here. Gosh, I used to have more time for posting!

In trying to define exploratory search for a current project, I've been confronted with a few different types of expertise. Marchionini (1995) describes 3 types:

  1. domain
  2. systems (how to actually use the search interface)
  3. information seeking (more on the structure of information and how to construct searches, etc.)

Apparently domain experts are more likely to go for higher recall because they will be able to browse the results more efficiently (a slightly different explanation from what they themselves report, see my summary of the RIN paper). Librarians are more likely to do analytic searches with more precise concept mapping.

Anyway, I ran across Collins' (2004) description of "interactional expertise". He talks about a sort of middle ground between tacit and explicit knowledge where you can communicate in the language of the domain, but can't practice the activity. (See, I've always thought of this as the stuff that comes out of the back of an intact male bovine creature, which I'm actually fairly decent at).

Basically he says that through linguistic socialization while immersed in the community we pick up tacit knowledge but not the practical skill to "pass as a fully competent member of the form of life once we move beyond language" (p. 127)

Collins goes on to talk about how we can know the differences: contributory knowledge lets you be let loose in the lab and hold your own, where interactional knowledge lets you interact with practitioners by understanding their terminology and getting some of their references. He states that this changes the interview to a conversation when the participant understands that you are able to convey what they are doing.

His cases primarily center on what sociologists of science or knowledge do, but this does have some explanatory power for what librarians do. I've been asked, "do you really have to have a science degree to do what you do?" The answer, of course, is no... but there is some common ground there and the negotiation of the reference question is very much aided by having a bit of domain knowledge. It could be that this is overcome by non-science trained folks through this linguistic socialization. In fact, science folks are all lay people outside of their particular area so all librarians are faced with this.

How can this expertise be built besides immersion (which will be time consuming and also requires the cooperation of the scientist participants)? Reading, observing... hmm.

Also, does this add anything to other descriptions of this phenomenon provided by Clark & Brennan (1993) and others discussing grounding in communication? (well I suppose grounding is an active, interactive process while expertise is a state so... )

Update: actually, this is probably more important when we're judging relevance for our customers when we are acting as search intermediaries... hm..

Clarke, H. H., & Brennan, S. E. (1993). Grounding in communication. In R. M. Baecker (Ed.), Readings in groupware and computer-supported cooperative work: Assisting human-human collaboration (pp. 222-233). San Mateo, CA: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.
Collins, H. (2004). Interactional expertise as a third kind of knowledge. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 3, 125-143.
Marchionini, G. (1995). Information seeking in electronic environments. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.

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Enough already with the computer-generated papers!

(by Christina Pikas) Feb 25 2014

SIGH! Years ago there was the Sokal affair that poked fun at cultural studies. Then there was a series of efforts to create a computer program to create articles - SciGen from MIT students is a famous one. Phil Davis got a computer-generated paper accepted to Bentham. More recently there was the Bohannon AAAS "sting" operation that (unfairly) targeted only OA journals... There were also two groups that gamed Google Scholar to show more citations... And now:

Publishers withdraw more than 120 gibberish papers
Conference proceedings removed from subscription databases after scientist reveals that they were computer-generated.

Richard Van Noorden, Nature News, 24 February 2014

Ugh! At least we can't blame Cyril Labbé, the scientist in question. He didn't submit the articles, he just detected them. And in places near and dear to my heart like IEEE Xplore and Springer. These are conference papers this time. Not only did they supposedly go through peer review - but were they presented? WHAT was presented? Even if these were pranks - how funny was it if it wasn't revealed? Should the authors be banned? Should they be charged with fraud as some suggest? What a stinking mess.

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Silencing women

(by Christina Pikas) Feb 21 2014

"That's an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it."

This is so true you have to laugh and not cry. This was pointed out by Mary Beard, The Public Voice of Women, February 14, 2014, online at . Originally from Punch (here) and drawn by Riana Duncan.

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Stockholm Deer

(by Christina Pikas) Feb 21 2014

Jenica Rogers, Director of Libraries and Archives at SUNY Potsdam, famous for dropping the ACS package, gave an outstanding Keynote at the Charleston Conference back in November. Her slides are here. There is a video here (only about 30 minutes - watch it). The title here is based on her point that librarians have Stockholm Syndrome and are like deer in the headlights.

Ms Rogers is notable for many things. She is somewhat young to be a Director of Libraries. She shares what it's like to be an administrator and provides wonderful mentoring for academic librarians in the ranks. She's a talented writer and speaker.

She also is quick to call bullshit when vendors play shenanigans thinking they can bully her because she is a woman or because she's younger. She's known for this with ACS and she's also taken on Sage.

This talk was more about how we need to be more than a pocketbook. How we need to call bullshit when vendors don't negotiate honestly. She brings up some horrific examples of contracts saying the library will try to thwart FOIA requests to get what they're paying. Libraries being offered deals if they stop pushing Open Access.

I think this resonated with a lot of people. I know of a society that was pricing based on what they could get away with, not their expenses plus a cushion. I think this is more typical that we know.

Anyhow. A while after, a rebuttal (yes really) came out in Against the Grain. I'll have to admit that I feel protective of Ms Rogers - which she surely doesn't need from me - so I got defensive immediately. But I looked at it again. Surely it's not all goodness and light for these authors! One says in the comments about some problems she has had.

One thing that some commenters miss is that many people use  - eek - swear words to express frustration over difficult situations or people. In some parts of the country swear words are part of the fabric of conversation. Her twitter account is her conversation. Her personal blog is conversation. That doesn't make her a bully. I have to admit that I was brought up not to swear and it was jarring to live next to someone from Brooklyn when I first got to college! And then when I went into the Navy... holy cow. (Of course now I can swear with the best of 'em. Who said the Navy wasn't good training?)

I have to admit that I'm a third-party to the negotiations. I come from a rich institution with strong leadership in the library that also won't take crap from vendors. They deal with this so I don't have to, but I will say that I will have to deal with our scientists who are going to miss some journals we're going to cancel next year from the society that insisted on a 16% price increase. I don't know if I'll point this video out to them but I hope some people outside the library world will watch it to understand a little more about what goes on.

This is really just meant to be a pointer post  - I'll leave more detailed analysis to others. I do recommend you note this post to LIBLICENSE - someone else standing up.

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Searching for textbooks in a library catalog

(by Christina Pikas) Feb 14 2014

So this should be easy/obvious, but it's not so much ... at least to me. It's very common that people want to locate textbooks for diverse reasons including:

  • they want to get it from a library because they don't want to pay for it (grrr...)
  • they are thinking about taking the class and they want to see what's involved
  • they want to get background/overview information on a field to learn a new field or brush up on old knowledge
  • they need to reference a basic idea from their field

For the first bullet, they should have the exact title, author, publisher, year, etc., so it's a standard known item search (which might also be complicated*). For the second, we or they can go to the syllabus of a class and get the book information or even go to the bookstore page to look up the book information.

For the last two, however, it's more of a subject search and then narrowing for format. It's not format in a straight forward sense like CD or DVD, it's the format of the content inside the container.** Librarians have some tricks in searching for textbooks including combinations of the following:

  • One word titles like Microbiology or Physics
  • Foundations of... or Introduction to... in the title
  • Using [topic] -- textbooks (not as effective as you'd like)
  • Looking up publishers that do a lot of textbook publishing (e.g., Pearson)

We at my larger institution were asked if we could add a facet in for textbooks. Or could we try and how hard would that be. So we're looking at these tools and how we could write an algorithm to tag various records so they could be brought up in search. How accurate do we need to be? Should we say it has to have one or more of the above categories? Ideally, we could also get multiple semester's adoptions from the bookstore or whatever, but we also want to know what other institutions use for textbooks. Some vendors (like Elsevier and maybe Springer, EBL) put textbook-type ebooks on a different platform or on the same platform but with a different license. Could we somehow get those lists and use them to tag items? How do we maintain as new items are purchased or licensed? Maybe YBP or whoever has a mark for that? Could we get that information for items we've already purchased over the last few years?

Ugh. Searching for this is difficult because all I keep finding are messages of varying crankiness levels about how students need to buy their own damn textbooks and not count on getting them from a or any library!  Ideas?

* Lee, J. H., Renear, A., & Smith, L. C. (2006). Known-Item Search: Variations on a Concept. Proceedings 69th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIST), Austin, TX.

and the Kilgour series from JASIST c2001-2004

but: Buckland, M. K. (1979). On Types of Search and the Allocation of Library Resources. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 30, 143-147.

** FWIW, we don't even do this uniformly with conferences. Some are "books" and some are conference proceedings in our catalog and some LNCS are monographic series so they come up as periodicals. And there are conference proceedings printed in journals...

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Looking at ROI or at least financial justification for SDI or alerting services

(by Christina Pikas) Dec 30 2013

Used to be that special libraries were the ones always asked to show their return on investment and justify budget expenditures - it was obvious that universities needed libraries and they were judged on the number of volumes (like that was ever a sensible metric for the value of a school!). In the past decade or so public libraries have been under more pressure to show ROI and they do so by showing economic benefits to the community from having library services in an area (there are also many more dimensions used in a nuanced way - see iPac's work). There's a nice (if a tad dated) review by Cory Lown and Hilary Davis here:

The term SDI - selective dissemination of information - was coined in the 60's but no doubt librarians have always performed this function. Whether formally or informally, we are asked to keep a look out for things of interest to our customers/users/patrons, etc., and bring them to their attention. Formally, we might have a budget we charge our time or even resources to and we do a detailed reference interview in which we establish the topic but also the type of information desired, the treatment, time period, frequency, and some gauge of whether the person would rather have some junk but be less likely to miss something (high recall) or is ok with being more likely to miss something but wants only things that are likely to be very relevant (high precision).

With this information the librarian might just set up a search in a database, tweak it a bit, and then walk away. She might have the results come to her and weed them every week. Alternatively, she might actually schedule some time to read the news and look out for things and then write up summaries.  Informally, it might be just that a librarian knows a customer's interests and if/when she sees something, she forwards it.

Once a database alert has been set up and is running, further intervention is only needed if the database vendor changes or if there's a request. The problem with this is that the end customer can (and often will) forget how they came to get this useful little email every week. We found when we needed to clean up our Dialog account that there were alerts from the former librarian who died in maybe 2002 or so (before I got here). They were super useful to the users and they passed them around within their group, but we were able to re-write them using our current site license to the database and save that money. If there wasn't a bill, we wouldn't have known and certainly those engineers had forgotten.

So what if one of those alerts had a gem in it that the recipient wouldn't have heard about otherwise and that caused them to start a new research program or innovate on a project or save money or .... ? Would the library, or more importantly, the people who pay for the library ever hear about it? No.

For the informal mode in which we keep an eye out for customers. That can be really hit or miss. Sometimes there's all kinds of interesting things going on and other times there's nothing. Maybe we point out 100 things of interest for 1 home run. Maybe allowing ourselves the time to look - to read the news, the industry newsletters, the science magazines (like society member magazines like Physics Today, EOS, etc) isn't do-able. That's a huge problem. It looks like you're doing nothing but fooling around on the internet. When you do send something good, they might be like "great - send one this good every week!" or "more like this!"

We were going to start up sector newsletters here, but it's really not sustainable because you have to look around and read for a while to see new and interesting things worth alerting people on. Sure, it's super useful but how many hours go into each home run? The bosses very much appreciate these tips they get, but they do not want to pay for the time for people to look for the information.

My old boss used to say that we needed to be just-in-time not just-in-case and that's total baloney. Libraries by definition are just-in-case. These alerting services are just-in-case. Metrics like number of alerts sent out are not useful. Stories of times these alerts were truly useful and used are great - but you have to hear them and record them.

My library has lost some big battles in justifying our existence so I am clearly not that effective at this. It's a sticky question, I think. My blog posts always peter off like Crichton novels, but oh well. Happy New Year - hopefully we'll still be providing library services in the new year after we're re-organized again, sigh.


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Keeping up with a busy conference - my tools aren't doing it

(by Christina Pikas) Dec 12 2013

I wrote about trying to use TwitteR to download AGU13 tweets. I'm getting fewer and fewer with my calls. I was very excited to try Webometric Analyst from Wolverhampton and described by Kim Holmberg in his ASIST webinar (BIG pptx, BIG wmv).

One of the things Webometric Analyst will do is do repeated searches until you tell it to stop. This was very exciting. But I tried it and alas, I think Twitter thinks I'm abusive or something because it was way throttled. Like I could see the tweets flying up on the screen at but the search was retrieving like 6. I ran the R search mid-day today and got 99 tweets back which covered  5 minutes O_o. I asked for up to 2000, from the whole day, and had it set to retry if stopped.


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