Library Routes, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Become a Librarian

This is for the Library Routes project wiki over at

So there I was, a biology major at McGill, facing down graduation and with not one clue as to what to do next.  My dad’s a scientist and I was pretty sure by my last year of undergrad that I was not.  The prospect of spending decades studying one organism or process or ANYthing was not attractive at all.  I’ve always been a very curious and investigative person – about everything. Rocks, plants, bugs, my fellow hoomans… but I just don’t have the attention span to do research at the level of reductionism required by modern science. I was tossing around ideas like science teaching (except I don’t really love being around lots of kids), science writing (except I didn’t know anything about the field and assumed it was all cutthroat competition freelancing), stuff like that. The library never occurred to me.  My only previous interaction with the library during my undergrad had been across the reserves desk where the student workers really don’t seem like they love their jobs.  So it had never struck me as a good place to work.  But like most students, I never really THOUGHT about it.

In the fall of my senior year, I had two lab courses that featured literature search assignments. In one of them, the head of the biology library came in and taught us how to use Biological Abstracts.  Now, if you’ve ever used this in print you know what a beast it was, but I thought it was the coolest invention I had ever seen. You could look up ANYTHING.  Then I stumbled onto Current Contents – another big whoa moment.  I was hooked.  I could do this for a living.  I wanted the job of that librarian.

By the time I really decided to pursue it, it was too late to apply for the next year’s library school admissions.  Which was just as well since my grades weren’t great.  So I finished up the year, then went to work as a casual assistant at that same biology library for a year, shelving and working circulation, doing inventory, and generally watching the librarians.  Because they knew of my interest, they gave me a lot of attention and “interesting projects” and I ended up learning a ton.  I started library school the following year.  I’m currently working at an academic biomedical library and I think this year (2009) we’re sending away our print Biological Abstracts. Kinda sad to see it go.

The librarian that came to our lab wasn’t there trying to promote librarianship as a career.  At least not deliberately.  You never know when you’re being an inspiration to someone.


PB vignette

This afternoon an urban outdoorswoman walked past my house with a cardboard box over her head. Not on her head, over her head.  Pushing a little cart.  Walking down the sidewalk. Huh.  Gonna miss this ‘hood.

BarCampSD5 (5/30-31/09) Notes, Day 2.

More from BarCampSD5.

Talks on cloud computing, passwords, free drinks, and a bonus deathmatch!

Read the rest of this entry

BarCampSD5 (5/30-31/09) Notes, Day 1

Rough notes from BarcampSd5, May 30 & 31, 2009

This was my first BarCamp and I really enjoyed it.  I didn’t know very many folks, which was good for me because that meant I couldn’t just tag along with friends but had to actually participate more.  I sometimes need to be forced to engage at social things! Took place over two days at Intuit offices. Really nice spaces – except their high tech AV system turned out to be less than, um, Intuit-ive for some of  our presenters.   Is there really any worse feeling than being up in front of an audience of your fellow geeks and you can’t get your computer image on the projector?  Really.

Saturday sessions I attended:

Read the rest of this entry

Wolfram Alpha is too smart for me

I’ve been playing around with Wolfram Alpha and I have to say… I don’t get it. I don’t understand the pattern of what works and what doesn’t.

Saccharomyces cerevisiae: great result. Saccharomyces: no result, not even a category guess.

San Diego county income per capita: great result. One of their own examples uses the term “income per capita” with a county name, so I am not surprised it gives a good result.
San Diego county homeless: no result. Ditto for homelessness and every other permutation I’ve tried.
San Diego county median income: no result for San Diego county or just San Diego, nor with area median income which is a widely used term. So what’s the clue you have to use the magic words “income per capita?”

I know it’s alpha and I it’s more physical-sciences/math oriented which I don’t have much call for, but I just can’t see any pattern of what the magic words are that get you to the good stuff and how you are supposed to be able to guess those magic words. It does do a pretty nice job on drug names if you’re looking for basic chemical stuff.

Google Scholar/WoS Cited Reference smackdown

OK, overblown title. We’ve been doing a workshop this year called “Got Impact?” about why/where/how to do cited reference searching & analysis. Web O’ Science and Google Scholar often have different citation counts for the same article. Usually Google has a higher count, but not always.  Frankly, I’ve been trying not to think about why this is.  This week I decided to at least take a little peek. I sat down with a paper from 2005 with a manageable number of citing references and printed out the “cited by” lists from both. (The starting paper was Burkle A. Poly(ADP-ribose). The most elaborate metabolite of NAD+. The FEBS journal. 2005;272(18):4576-89. )  Google Scholar (hereafter inconsistently referred to as GS) said it was cited by 52 (of which it would only show me 50) and Web O’ Science (WoS) said 46. Here’s how it broke down:

  • 33 papers were on both lists.  Dup de dup.
  • 13 papers were in WoS’s list but not in the GS list.  However, most of those 13 could be found as original articles in GS, but didn’t link up as citing the Burkle paper.  Could have been because of a parsing error – in some but not all citations, Burkle’s name has an umlaut over the u. You’d think GS wouldn’t get tripped up by that – I certainly didn’t try to pick a trick article.  I didn’t do any digging to try to find a pattern with those 13 items.
  • 6 articles on the GS list were in journals that WoS covers, but not on WoS’ list – some seemed to be in that “epub” stage without a final citation, but others just looked like journals where ISI’s indexing was a bit behind.
  • 4 articles on the GS list were duplicates, mostly to one Russian-language article that appeared in different stages of translation in the search results. There was a single entry for that article on the WoS list.
  • 4 citing “items” on the GS list were not journals – three were book chapters from publishers using the same platform for books as journals, and one appeared to be a dissertation. Of course none of these were on the WoS list.
  • 2 citing articles on the GS list were for journals not indexed by WoS

So what to tell a researcher wanting a comprehensive citation search?  Well… use both. Unfortunately, there is a large amount of duplication. The best tool I know of to grab a whole page of GS results is Zotero. But exporting a list from ISI to Zotero doesn’t always work well, and GS records are so dirty, there’s still loads of manual cleanup to do before you can expect it to merge cleanly with an ISI result for deduping.

I think the loser of this smackdown was me.

Ch-ch-ch-changes: The Candidates Sing Out.

Don’t bail on this – it gets better toward the middle.

Sony Reader ad, revised.

Sony’s initial version of this ad lacked the disclaimer. I LOLd when I saw this yesterday on the back cover of the USAir in-flight magazine.

E-Learning predictions for 2008: We still have no game.

Tony Karrer makes some predictions for 2008 on his excellent eLearning Technology blog.  The one that made me laugh while also sadly shaking my head was #8:

Prediction #8 => Serious Games – Seriously Sorry, Not for You
They will continue to get talked about A LOT. And people will continue to be interested and excited. Likely YOU will get to attend a session on them. But YOU won’t get to build one, or buy one, or participate in one.

Thanks, Wired. Big help.

Thanks, Wired, for this helpful article for returning students on how to get around campus efforts to stop torrents and file sharing. What’s next, how to make your own roofies?