Monday, January 28, 2013

Day in the life of a librarian - An academic librarian in Singapore 2013

I don't have many traditions for this blog which is now 4 years old, but one of them seems that every Jan, I will post a rough sketch of my work day for a week as part of the Library day in a life meme. Here are past editions.

Sadly this meme/project has ended but for the sake of tradition I will continue. I always fancied this  was sometimes useful for future librarians thinking of becoming academic librarians in Singapore.

14 Jan 2013

Today's the first day of term, with all the work it implies. I've scheduled some of the events and promotions to be tweeted, posted out on Facebook in advance last week, but just thought of adding something to all FourSquare venues that are claimed, so when people check-in they will see our news popup.

This term is also special, because we just launched our new discovery service in Dec 2012 as the default search, and many returning students and staff were finally discovering it (we of course had plenty of announcements and a length test period of almost 6 months on secondary tabs but there are still many who have not used it).

As per my normal practice, I spend the first 10-20 minutes each day looking at search queries made in our FAQ system/LibAnswers , looking at google analytics to see which pages are most popular in various systems like our guides, faq, portal etc (particularly important this period so we can react quickly to developing situations) or to see the response to our marketing via email of certain pages such as our Summon guides etc .

Also for the past 6 months, I added an additional routine of trying out sample queries done by our users on our new discovery system to ensure nothing strange is happening. 

I must admit, I have become almost addicted to duplicating search queries captured in our logs because you learn so much including
  • quirks about the system's relevancy ranking (I could write tons on this now)
  • user behavior in terms of search queries entered, refinements used
Just two examples, back in Sept 2012, I discovered users like to do search queries of the format  + which surprisingly fails often enough compared to straight out title as the former tends to result in book reviews (which we filter out by default but some are classified as journal articles) or journal articles/book commenting on the work. 

This issue seems to confound people working in the humanities, as we started to receive feedback on this very issue starting December, but it was nice that we were prepared to answer this and a suggested work-around.

The other issue I noticed looking at the logs is that searches of the nature  + (e.g family relationship singapore) which are naturally popular is that often it doesn't give very relevant results, inevitably the same books such as Encyclopedia of Singapore, a book on Jews in Singapore etc and a certain journal article always appears regards of the topic.

Trying to filter by subject terms to Singapore seldom improves the results, my own technique which I worked out which seems to work more often than not is to used advanced search to forced Singapore into the title field tends to give more relevant results though why that works I am unsure.

But I digress, much of the morning was spent preparing & organising for the sessions I was going to give on the new discovery system both this week and next, including a "live" online session held via webex next week.

Part of the preparation involves generating a list of people who signed up for the session tomorrow, and scanned the list to see who was probably coming (so I can customize the session slightly) and as expected a large number were new students and staff who just joined us this semester which poses challenges of its own.

The other major thing I was working on this week besides launch of our discovery system was the rollout of our openurl resolver to work with PubMed. Was co-ordinating it with staff from medical library, fixing typos in FAQs, changing URLs for PubMed from our guides, catalogue, portal, so that all was in readiness for the mass email to be sent out to the medical faculty.

Coincidentally, we also put in a couple of changes to simplify our openurl/360 link search page to make it cleaner and more user friendly (thanks to an idea I brought home from a discussion at Internet Librarian International last year) over the weekend and it came into effect today!

Users normally wouldn't see it much because we have "one-click" turned on which bypasses the page, but with many free medical resources, PubMed users will probably see the page more. I suggested yet another minor spacing change to make the sentence lineup (librarians are detailed oriented!)

Sent an email about a matter related to mobile services.

Spent most of the day monitoring chats to see if users were having difficulties with the new discovery system or other library services.

15 Jan 2013

Recommended to my resource team leader to turn on a couple of essential economics resources that we have subscriptions to and are indexed in Summon, but were not yet turned on.

Our first presentation on the discovery service! I admit to be nervous. The main problem with such sessions is that they are designed for people who have experience with our past systems and want to know what the difference is with our new discovery service.

But inevitably, it draws a large number of new students and staff who just joined NUS, regardless of our best efforts. Which has 3 issues
  • They will have little context to compare
  • Most will expect a basic library orientation type session (which we do hold but on different dates) and feel unsatisfied with a sessions that obviously isn't meant for that 
  • Mixed audiences where power-users attend and people with no experience whatsoever

Of course, we do learn from the past (I had a similar issue in 2011), so this time around, I was prepared to offer a optional library orientation system after this session and which was eventually taken up. 

All the preparation seemed to help and the presentation was surprisingly well received with a couple of faculty and teaching staff coming up to me and saying "Good Job" as I guess I did cover enough of the theoretical and conceptual aspects of the system that interested them.

Many less experienced users also seemed to like the way I worked through a problem, showing cases where Summon shows less than ideal ranking results and showing why it was important to use various search techniques from the humble "quotes" for phrase searching to subject term filtering.

I also took the time to point out the weakness with Summon , though one wonders how much that sunk in with the less experienced users who have never used a traditional database, but I digress again.

After the session, I had to deal with some other library issues brought up by new students and staff at the session not relating to Summon. While looking at feedback from that session, also received an email nominating me to present Summon at a important meeting.

At the end of the day received a pleasant surprise where I got an email and was asked back to give another training sessions for one of the departments I am a liaison of. I just gave them a session last week and in 3 years of doing this they never once asked me for a second session. Of course this was the first time, I did a session with Summon, not sure if that had an effect.

Also received an email from a colleague asking advice about some social media tool.

16 Jan 2013

Handled a email from a user who wanted to attend our online web-ex session on Summon next week but had a technical issue while doing pre-testing to test her PC for compatibility.

Monitored a possible issue with DRM ebooks.

Received notice that it was all systems go for our Pubmed link changes! Medical library staff informed the Medical faculty to send a mass email about the PubMed + OpenURL integration.

Finally! I am feeling pleased because this is something we worked very long and hard to get working. Next to implementing Summon itself, this was one of the most technically challenging things I have done and probably of some impact, given that medical users are very heavy users of Eresources.

Spotted a new issue of  "Springy News" - SpringShare's newsletter, the main thing that caught my eye was the instructions on how to create a rotating box of boxes. Seems perfect for us, as we are currently potentially marketing 3 big piece of news
  • Summon launch
  • Google Scholar + openurl launch
  • PubMed + openurl launch
So I created a rotating box of these 3 news and put it into our main libguide page and other spots that Google analytics was drawing the most views.

More discussion on mobile services via email.

The other major thing I was doing was looking through our online feedback of both chat and Summon itself. Negative feedback is to be expected of course, but because most of them left their emails, I could and did email them back when necessary to ask more about the issues they were having so I could understand and ask whether I could help.

Received a flattering email to take part in a survey/focus group on innovation but ultimately declined.

17 Jan 2013

Started the ball rolling with a initiative proposed by the business library to do in 2013, to place our libraryh3lp chat widgets in Ebscohost platform databases. As long time readers of my blog will know, I am a big fan of our chat reference service and have slowly built it up since 2010. In fact by some coincidence, I mentioned expansion of chat in both 2011 and 2012's version of day in the life of librarian. 

We already have it on our main page, FAQ, Guides, Mobile, Facebook, Courseware page etc (shades of  12 User points of need - where to place your services online) and so adding it to databases or even Summon itself would be the final step in making our chat accessible on almost all our pages, but we do need to iron out a few issues before making this step.

Had lunch and then attended a meeting on the library survey we will be launching later this year. The last time we did such a large scale survey was in 2010, so I am itching to run the survey this year and compare the results.

Since 2010, we have among other things, revamped our Website together with implementation of LibGuides, LibAnswers, Libraryh3lp (chat), launched social media, started conducting classes using webex (web-conferencing), launched our link resolver to work with Google, PubMed and of course the new discovery service Summon.

The question of course is, did this really make a difference? Or did it as I suspect make them happy for a while, before they settled back to their user level of happiness, the so called set point theory of happiness?

Not to mention, by now only the most senior students will remember how things were in 2010!

Ended the day, writing two very long reports. The first was a quarterly report about activities that were under my charge including FAQ, Chat, Social Media and Mobile teams.

In Dec, we had also began to sent links to online feedback surveys upon completion of chat and email transactions and I did an analysis of the data. Did most users bother to complete the short online survey or would they just ignore the link? If they did do the survey, were they generally happy?

All I will say is with regards to chat transactions, they generally *did* do the survey and the responses were extremely positive, particularly in the non-mandatory "other comments" field. 

I had a inkling this would happen, but did not expect the degree this would happen. 
I must say the only other library service or tool I have seen that elicited such a positive response here is the hugely popular proxy bookmarklet.

A common thread seemed to be they were extremely impressed by the speed and efficiency of our response and some recommended that this service should be marketed more.

Looking at our stats, I am not surprised users are impressed by our speed, on a typical day 80% of our chats get a initial response within 10 seconds. This rises to 90% within 30 seconds. That's actually way above our targets.

From my understanding this is a very good result, achievable only because we invest in staffing chat reference separately from front line desk duties and staff have been instructed over and over again of the importance of a quick initial response (either a quick "hi" or a canned shortcut line before actually answering), because that is the first impression the user usually remembers.

Not bad for a chat service that just came into existence as a pilot in Aug 2010 but now draws from a pool of about 50 staff (mostly librarians plus a few support staff).

Got a interesting professional opportunity, not sure yet if I will accept it. 

18 Jan 2013

This is the semester, where students start to work on their Honours year thesis, and I received 2 requests for help from users this week. Unfortunately, I can't meet with them this week as requested because I have yet another Summon training/briefing/marketing sessions, so I just pointed them to guides and blog posts I wrote recently on how to do a literature review. 

Compared to the session I did earlier this week which was in the library, this one's done outside our library at the relatively new University Town.

I think I did even better than the first time around. Knowing what not to say, is probably more important than knowing what to say during such sessions.

In any case, students were very appreciative, one told me that Summon is awesome, that finally she feels she knows how to search for academic material. One written feedback said, the person would no longer google!

Truth be told, I think and many have said it before me, Summon truly fits the mental model of students, and they walk away from such sessions feeling confident they can find what they need. I have sessions that used to be so challenging that I dreaded doing them every year, become a breeze because of Summon.

Still, how much of it is an illusion (I would argue it is largely one and finding appropriate academic material to cite even with Summon is a lot harder than first impression might seem to users), but that's a topic for another blog post.

Ended the week on a high note, where I received an email from a user .

He left some feedback on our form on Summon on how he generally used Google Scholar, so I took the opportunity to inform him about our new Google Scholar intregration with our openurl resolver, in case he wasn't aware.

He was impressed we took the time to respond, though to be fair often we can't respond even if we wanted to, because users don't generally leave their contact when leaving feedback. 


So that's it. Another year, another post. Hope you found it useful.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

5 things I learnt about Open Access after reading Crawford's & Suber's books

I recently finished reading two introductory volumes on Open Access, namely Open Access - What you need to know by Walt Crawford and Open Access by Peter Suber.

As far as I remember, I have never done a book review on this blog before, so here is my review of both. But first a little context of where I am coming from.

As a librarian who isn't specifically involved in my institution's Institutional Repository team or Open Access in a big way, I haven't been specifically studying Scholarly Communications, so I am not as versed in this area as I would like.

For sure I am not a specialist or even activist who subscribes to Open Access newsletters and hangs out at open access related mailing lists.

Though I haven't exactly stuck my head in the sand either and have read the occasional blog post or news article on open access that streams past me on Twitter or Facebook (of which the Scholarly Kitchen blog posts seem very popular) and also read discussions on the topic on Facebook, Twitter, Friendfeed etc by librarians in the trenches who are promoting Open Access.

However various parts of my work in 2012 including chance conversations with research staff, started me down the path of considering Open Access seriously and towards the end of 2012, I decided to prepare for 2013 by reading formally on the topic and both books which aims at quickly bringing people (Crawford's probably more for Librarians & Suber's more for researchers) up to speed with the concept of Open Access seem to be written just for people like me.

Both books are short, Crawford's weighs in at 71 pages and Suber's at 241. So I was curious how much material in both were new to me. There can't be that much to know about the basic principles of Open Access that I didn't read before in some blog post or article via Twitter right?

Actually I was wrong, I did learn quite a few things.

As such, I thought it would be interesting to list the things I learnt from the books that were most surprising to me.

It's important to note that I actually started with Crawford's book first in Oct 2012 , finished it fairly quickly in a couple of sittings in a couple of days. Then, I got Suber's book on Christmas Eve 2012 but read it in spurts before finishing it up last week.

Also, I only read the main text and did not refer to the endnotes which was liberally included in Suber's book.

1. The concepts of Gratis OA and Libre OA vs Green OA and Gold OA - Crawford

I am not 100% sure if this is the first time I came across the term Gratis OA/Libre OA (though I am broadly familiar with creative commons licenses of CC-BY, CC BY-NC etc), or if I have came across it before and ignored it or knew it but forgot what it meant, but Crawford's book was the one that made me assimilate this concept, so that I now retain the concept in my mind.

Essentially Gratis/Libre OA focus on rights (the difficulty to obtain data-mining rights seems to be the main context in which I encountered this right in the past) , while the Green/Gold OA distinction handles the vehicle in which the article is disseminated.

Suber covers the same concept in greater detail, including explaining why while Green OA can be in theory either Gratis or Libre, it is typically Gratis because the rights are usually with the publisher. Maybe obvious to open access activists, but wasn't so to me.

2. Gold OA does not necessarily require Article Processing Charges (APC)  - Crawford's

Crawford lists a number of myths and misunderstandings about Open Access in Chapter 4, such as "Open Access undermines peer review", "Researchers already have all the access they need", "Open Access eliminates copyright" etc but I already knew these were myths.

However the fact that "most OA journals don't charge author-side fees" (pg 19) was a surprise to me. I understand (please correct me if I am wrong), that this applies to OA journal titles, but the actual numbers of OA articles published via APCs might or might not be a different story.

Still this comes to a surprise as me, as I always thought the only way to fund for a Gold Open Access Journal was to charge the author (or rather someone on the author-side such as the funder) a fee, but I understand now there are other funding models out there such as advertising, charging for print, subsidies etc (though this still sounds suspect to me that this could work out)

I would add that this isn't one of the myths and misunderstandings listed in the book, though it does list "author side fees comes out of the author's pocket" which is kinda related, though ultimately this is still talking about APCs.

Suber's book makes the same point but by then I wasn't surprised having read Crawford's book.

3. Why Journal articles are low hanging fruit for OA compared to most books - Suber

This is covered under Chapter 5 (Scope) , but I think the point is made the strongest for me in Chapter 2 under "seizing opportunities". Essentially, because authors of peer review articles do not write for royalties, coupled with the internet making the marginal cost of creating new copies essentially zero, Open Access makes plenty of sense, since you don't gain any revenue from selling access anyway, so why would you want to restrict access? Particularly when it costs more to create authenticate controls.

Before this, I didn't quite understand why books was a different area (though I knew for some reason it was considered so) e.g there was a fuss that Suber's book wasn't released as Open Access immediately for example and people defended him by saying he wasn't been inconsistent or hypocritical because that was for a book not for a peer reviewed article.

4. Different types of Mandates by institutions and funders - Suber

Before this, I had heard about "mandates" that require all researchers at a certain institution to support open access by depositing their work in their institutional repository. But Suber's book in chapter 4, shows how simplistic this thinking is and includes material that is almost 100% new to me.

He talks about "Loophole mandates", "Deposit Mandates" and "Right-retention mandates", all of which is new to me, though I wonder how established these terms are.

For loophole mandates, researchers will have to deposit their work unless the publisher of the journal prohibits such actions.

For deposit Mandates, researchers will definitely have to deposit in repositories, but they may not be released immediately or at all, if the publisher disallows.

For right-retention mandates, researchers give a standing non-exclusive right to deposits. Unlike the first two mandates where the institution would be at the mercy of the publisher's policy , in this case rights are secured before even the paper is submitted. Researchers themselves can opt-out it seems from this.

Another point I gleaned from this chapter on policy was the importance of mandates not infringing on researchers freedom to publish in journals of their choice and why those mandated by funders like NIH can be a lot more restrict because researchers can always choose not to ask for funding if they disagree.

There's also a great discussion on why the word "mandate" might not be the best word, and a very good section "digression on historical timing of Open Access policies" on when and why it might be the right time to try to adopt different mandate types. Eg. There are more green mandates than gold mandates because currently there aren't enough Gold Journals to impose this without causing researchers difficulties on where to publish.

5. The whole chapters in Suber's book for Economics (chapter 7) and Causalities (chapter 8)

I found most of the material in both books fairly easy reading (possibly some familiarity from reading some material in the past is helping), the exceptions were Chapter 7 on Economics and Chapter 8 on Causalities quite difficult, which implies I was encountering a lot of new arguments or concepts.

I probably will have to reread these chapters many times, but I found it quite hard going and I suspect my unease could also be partly because I had a feeling that unlike the other chapters these are areas of controversy which is reinforced by the style of writing in the book with complicated (to me), multi-step logic and arguments.


"#EventA is not going to happen because of #ReasonA  and even if is not true , there is #ReasonB  and #ReasonC, if not #ReasonD and even if it is the case that all these reasons fail and #EventA happens it is still a win ...."

Okay, probably it wasn't written exactly this way but that is how it felt to me.

Moreover for the first time reading these books, I was reading passages that made me go "but....." as opposed to just passively absorbing the material, I suspect such objections if not totally simple are the additional details that Suber excluded to keep things to only the fundamental issues.

Compared to Crawford, Suber's writing seems to me to be a lot more dense (and possibly more rigorous?) , but I feel in these two chapters he goes into overdrive, signaling to me that these are very complicated issues which requires him to write this way and no doubt even what is written is a simplification bypassing some technical issues.

These two chapters probably corresponds loosely to Crawford's chapters on "issues for open access" and "open access controversies" (in particular the myths & misunderstanding section), but for some reason, I flew through Crawford's sections quickly.

Other remarks comparing both books

Overall I enjoyed and can highly recommend both books. Crawford's book is extremely clear, though because of its brevity covers some issues in lesser depth which I didn't notice until reading Suber's book.

Suber's book is longer (but still short) and more technical and like many librarians I enjoy learning details (I will probably start exploring the links in the endnotes to get a fuller picture soon), so I loved it too.

I do wish he could have written a much longer book, as I got the sense that behind every sentence he wrote, lurks a bigger story and he himself worries a little in the preface that "fellow specialists" might wonder if he is cutting too much material or simplifying too much, but again this was what he set out to do, write for busy ensure they get the "correct formulation" of the idea and not write something to debate with other specialists in open access.

That said, given the difficulty I had with chapters 7 and 8, I suspect if I had gone directly to Suber's book without first going through Crawford's much more of Suber's book would be difficult, so it's fortunate I did the books in the order I did.

Both have two concluding chapters which is basically a "What next?" chapter, I prefer Crawford's one on "taking action" and "exploring open access" (for keeping up) to Suber's "The future" and "Self help" but then again Crawford is pretty much writing for librarians, while Suber is addressing the researchers and it seems stakeholders at institutions and libraries (University Librarians?), so it is expected which one would be more relevant to me.

That said, even Crawford's book is scant on practical details on strategies for popularizing repositories, how to encourage deposits, strategies for promoting open access awareness etc, but of course, neither book was meant to address those issues as useful as it might be to a librarian like myself and given that it is still relatively early days in the open access story, such a book might not be suitable to be written yet.


I always knew in my bones, that Open Access is a elegant and logical idea, independent of other reasons for pushing it (e.g Serials Crisis), but was dimly aware that there are a lot of practical difficulties to manage the transition and was somewhat apathetic to it , to the dismay of librarians who were strong activists of Open Access that I have interacted with online.

I am not sure if either books, help clarify to me totally, how to get past those difficulties (e.g I always got the sense that the accepted majority "correct" answer to "Green or Gold?", should be "both!", but for reasons I can't quite articulate I don't feel if I understand why) , but for sure they make it even clearer to me why Open Access is something we should definitely work towards, despite that victory is going to be hard-won and in the final analysis we librarians in the academic world are not the main players in this story.

I have no idea if I am typical in terms of things that surprised me about Open Access above. Though I may represent a type of person/librarian who hasn't studied open access closely though yet has some superficial knowledge and perhaps would be prone to misunderstanding the idea.

I suspect most of our researchers even the ones who want to talk about open access, would probably be at roughly this level of knowledge. In other words vaguely familiar with the concept but might not fully understand the full picture.

Both books help to ground my understanding about Open Access on a far stronger footing so now I have a greater confidence talking about open access, as opposed to trying to glean the "truth" behind different conflicting versions from reading dozens of different posts.

As Suber writes in the waning pages of his book, while resistance to Open Access is/was not all due to misunderstandings of the idea, but he states that the "largest single portion" stems or used to stem from this, so it is important those of us librarians who want to promote the concept should avoid articulating mistaken ideas as far as possible and know how to handle those who are articulating such ideas.

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