Killer apps for scientists - or anyone

Chris Rusbridge is a great mind always thinking about implications for scholarly communication and how best to capture information into repositories. That summations doesn't really do justice to the thrust of Chris' work, so let's just say I admire his work immensely and have great respect for his observations. One of his lastest posts on the Digital Curation Blog is an adaptation from a posting on Science in the Open about how Nature could make Connotea a killer app for scientists. Chris' point is that the same concepts could be applicable to making repositories killer apps for scientists.

I think the same concepts could be extended to much of what libraries offer. Please read the original posts but essentiall the take-aways for me in these posts are that
  1. Tools (and services) we offer must integrate seamlessly in what people already do
  2. Tools (and services) we develop must outperform what is already available
  3. Tools (and services) must function perfectly 100% of the time
  4. Tools (and services) must include at least one feature to make things that make things measureably better
We have a bad habit in the library world of bringing on new tools and services that require users to change what they do with no value added. Additionally we make things so hard that they require instruction to make them work. Is there any mystery that less than 60% of faculty in sciences and less than 70% in social sciences rate the role of the library as "gatekeeper" as "very important". I have perceived this from my conversations with faculty colleagues over the last several years, but now this has been substantiated through research. A new report from Ithaka studying key stakeholders in the digital transformation of higher education has documented this phenomenon. Not surprising this has received a good deal of press. The report was a cover article in the August 26 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education (at least it was in the digital version - I don't read the paper edition). Educause did a webcast with Roger Shonfeld, one of the report's primary authors that was also very interesting.

From the Chronicle article:

Since 2003, faculty members across the disciplines have shown a marked decline in how devoted they are to libraries as information portals. Eighty percent of humanities scholars are still devoted to library research—although that may be not because they're traditionalists but because they can't yet get what they need in digital form. But only 48 percent of economists and 50 percent of scientists value libraries as gateways.

That should worry librarians whose budgets are eaten up by high-priced science journals. What if the designated users of those materials are sidestepping the library altogether?

Meanwhile, more than 90 percent of librarians still consider the gateway function of libraries as essential. "Obviously there is a mismatch in perception here"—one that librarians need to confront if they want to stay relevant to campus intellectual life, Mr. Schonfeld and Mr. Housewright caution.

My assessment - the handwriting is on the wall. Can we as librarians read it?


addicted to apps

I am just crazy about my iPhone and even crazier about the appstore. I find myself looking at the apps...starting with the free ones...then the 99 cent ones...then what the heck it is only $8.99. Here are my favorites (both paid and free)...
  1. Koi Pond - a little zen fish pond in my hand
  2. Facebook - easy to use access to another addiction
  3. Shazam - listens to any recorded song and tells me what it is (how does that work?)
  4. reMovem - easy game of strategy
  5. IQ Boost - a game based on dual n-back exercise - read the article in Wired!
  6. INeedStuff - a georeferenced shopping list
If these things aren't enough reason to love an iPhone then I don't know what to tell you.


can librarians re-envision themselves?

I am starting to wonder if it is indeed possible to re-invent our profession to meet the information needs of a changing world. We can organize discussions until the cows come home, but until we as a profession start to think differently about the nature of information provision I think we are dead in the water. Oh sure, there are pockets of librarians who have actually shifted their weight to the other foot, but as a whole I think our profession is doing a terrible job of changing with the times.

I reflect back on the last meeting of the American Library Association in Anaheim and I was repeatedly struck by the old school nature of the meeting. There were precious few sessions where the conversation wasn't about a slightly different version of the same old thing.

At our faculty retreat we had a really good example of a new way of doing business when we heard from a clinical reference librarian about how they now accompany doctors and residents when they go on their rounds. This serves as the reference interview as they then follow-up and provide information that is needed to answer the questions that come up in interactions with the patients.

They have moved out from behind the reference desk and into a new information space. What strikes me as I try to generalize this to other parts of our profession is that we don't seem to be able to adequately identify where that new information space for faculty and students. One of the readings from our retreat pointed out that we are a profession in need of taking risks but generally speaking we are a profession of people who are risk averse.

Librarians clearly need to move out from behind the reference desk and stop waiting to be approached with questions, but the part that we do not seem to be able to grasp is where that new information space is. It is not sitting with faculty in their offices, it is not in residence halls, it is not in the lobby of the library, but rather it is in the new information space - Google searches, Facebook, My Space, etc. I am not discounting the need for the short term to have some way to answer questions for people that make their way to the library, but I think this is a dying proposition.

Developing systems that require instruction for the user is an activity with diminishing returns.

In a time of diminishing resources, we need to (and as quickly as possible) get the things that are unique to us - generally called Special Collections - processed, cataloged in a way that this metadata can be moved into the new information space. Items from our collections need to be digitized in mass and exposed to the world. We need to forge new relationships and strengthen ongoing relationships with IT professionals to develop new tools to expose our content into that new information space.

We have the ability to do this - do we have the will?



This is a post about a post I read that was referring to another post (ahhh, the infectious nature of the internet!) The post was by Chris Rusbridge, Director of the Digital Curation Centre about the terms we use in trying to "sell" digital preservation. His contention is that we have tainted the term "digital preservation" because it describes a process and not an outcome. We have also sold the idea that it is very complicated and very expensive. Both are true, but there are degrees to everything.

I think the point is well taken and perhaps we should consider what Chris suggests in talking about "long-term accessibility" and "usability over time" to describe what we really want. That actually is the goal, right?

I am reminded of the Seinfeld episode when Jerry was standing at the rental car counter bemoaning the fact that the company did in fact "take" his reservation, but "keeping" his reservation was a problem.

This analogy applies to all of our digital stuff. We don't want to simply "take" it (with all of the expectations that implies) but we want to "keep" it and make it usable.