June 30, 2008
I loved the session yesterday about the future of federal & military libraries. It was an open discussion rather than prepared powerpoints. This gives such a different perspective that is really more valuable than some structured presentations. There was much angst about the EPA libraries, but some good explanations about what is happening now. Also we were updated on the budget situation at NAL (National Agriculture Library) which is looking bleak. In the open discussion, several themes surfaced. One was making your library visible to higher management. How to get buy in and support. How to do succession planning in light of an aging group of professionals. What about staff hours needed to maintain a digital collection? Costs of maintaining library collections. When digitize, should keep one physical copy.
The session concluded with each person in the room introducing themselves and telling about their libraries. Here was the revelation–many said they were "happy librarians". They had enough money to run their libraries (although all admitted they could use more) and had management support. It’s good to hear about thriving libraries! Being a skeptic, however, I wonder if some of that complacency is misplaced. I’m hoping they are also pushing some boundaries and creating new and interesting services.
I was disappointed this morning when I went to the EPA libraries update. It was cancelled because the GAO speaker didn’t show up. I gather that individual was to talk about the GAO report on the EPA libraries. I do think it’s not very accountable of the GAO not to show up! Particularly when EPA has a booth on the exhibit floor, as they did at the SLA conference.
June 29, 2008
Elsevier’s ScienceDirect has an interesting idea. It’s called For Great Thinking and it’s very 2.0-ish. The idea is to encourage people to nominate "exceptional individuals" who are doing really good research and "shaping science." This isn’t citation analysis, it’s a wide open invitation to get recognition for scientists who are alive, working in academia, doing rigorous research, be published, producing original work, making an impact and inspiring others. The categories are: arts and humanities, life sciences and biomedicine, natural sciences, social sciences, engineering, and information technology. So where does library science research go? I asked and the answer was nominate library and information science researchers in whatever category seems to fit best. Then ScienceDirect will sort it out. For the complete rules and to nominate, gohere.
And where would you categorize library & information science?
I stopped by the Emerald booth — it’s 909 — and was very pleased to note they have copies of the preliminary programme for Internet Librarian International to distribute. So if you want one, that’s the place to go.
I also learned they’re opening a US office in Cambridge, Massachusets, next week. This will be really helpful for US subscribers who won’t have to cope with the time changes between the UK and the US if they need customer service.
I stopped by the LexisNexis booth for a demo of their new product for public libraries, called Library Express. It looks just like their Academic product, but with slightly reduced content. There are buttons for Legal (case law, statutes, codes, regulations, patents and law school directories), Business (which is Company Dossier), and News (Nexis’ full text newspapers, journals, magazines, broadcast news and wire services). At the booth, they told me they intend for Library Express to be a "long term program to introduct public libraries to LexisNexis content." In other words, it’s an attempt to push LN content at public libraries rather than ask public libraries what content they need that they don’t have now. Several librarians told me that the legal information is nice, but usually they simply send patrons with serious legal research needs down the street to the county law library. The interface is slick, but the question is whether public libraries need another aggregator of information. Since Library Express is brand new, we’ll have to wait until public librarians have a chance to test it out. 30-day free trials are available.
The full title of this session, ABC’s of DNA, Unraveling the Mystery of Genetics Information for Consumers, led me to believe it would be a list of resources. It was that, to an extent, but moved well beyond that to an explanation of the philosophical, ethical, and legal issues surrounding genetic testing. It was a small group, so the presenter, Terri Ottosen, Consumer Health Outreach Coordinator, NNLM Southeastern/Atlantic Region, was frequently answering questions relating to a point in her presentation. This made the whole experience less of a canned presentation and revealed some of the real life dilemmas that people face, some of which are a bit scary, such as who really owns your medical records, who can access your medical records without your knowledge (insurance companies, prospective employers), and how accurate/reliable is the information in your medical records? How will genetically modified foods affect us, since we don’t even know whether or not the food we eat is "Frankenfood" and what are the implications for the Third World? As we learn more about which chromosomes are responsible for diseases, should we test newborns to see if they might have an altered chromosome that will result in disease? Should we test for diseases when we have no cure for them?
The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) has passed both the House (on April 25th) and the Senate (on May 1st) and now awaits the president’s signature. There’s a National Information Resource on Ethics and Human Genetics (GenETHX), produced at Georgetown University. The full list of resources (and PPT slides that wouldn’t open for me) are at the NNLM site.
This was an extremely thought-provoking session, not just for librarians, but for everybody. After all, the issue of genome research affects us all. It’s science, but it’s also public policy. And, as Ottosen reminded us, the information contained in genetics databases, even those aimed at consumers, is hard to understand.
Lots of good advice on managing the workflows surrounding ebooks from people involved in doing just that. My main takeaway was how different ebook management is from that not only of physical books but of electronic journals. User behavior differs as do their expectations. Libraries face the challenge of integrating ebooks into the collection so they can be found and read.
The other takeaway was that some types of books will always be physical — and should be physical. Children’s books is the prime example. Kids need those tactile elements implicit in childrens’ books. And reading to your kids just isn’t the same if you’re looking at a screen instead of the printed page.
This also reminded me of my long-standing gripe about bibliographic control. Why do databases like ABI/INFORM provide me with 15 descriptor terms for a 3 page article while a 500 page book has only 3 subject headings? Wierd.
June 28, 2008
I went to the New Members Meet & Greet last evening. (Hey, why not? It’s the only thing during the whole conference scheduled at my hotel!) Lots of great LIS students were there, some just graduated, some about to graduate. I learned from David Gross that San Jose State University is offering a one-credit course to its students attending ALA. The students have to trade business cards with people they meet at the conference (and I, of course, had left mine in my room, so I owe David a card), attend sessions, visit the exhibit hall, keep a journal log of their activities, and when they return to San Jose, write a paper researching something new that interested them from the conference. I think this is a super idea! Do other graduate library schools do this?
I flew into John Wayne airport (aka Orange County airport) yesterday to attend the annual conference of the American Library Association. I haven’t flown into JW in years and am just astonished at how it’s grown! I went over to the conference center to register. Registration was inside the exhibit hall, but separated from the actual exhibits. Still, you could see that this exhibit hall is bigger than ever! And looking at the final program, I quickly realized that sessions I want to attend are spread out all over the Disneyland area. This morning, for example, I’d really like to sample three different sessions, but one is in the Hyatt, one’s in the Hilton, and the third is in the conference center. Sheesh!
Information Today Inc is exhibiting and they do have some free copies of ONLINE, so come by Booth 439 and pick one up! We did have the insane idea of trying to blog ALA as we did SLA, but came to our senses when we realized there would be only 2 of us available to blog. I’ll cover as much as I can, but it won’t come close to the group blogging effort earlier this month in Seattle.
June 25, 2008
Looks like the UBM – Informa merger is off. Now it’s private equity firms Providence Equity Partners, the Carlyle Group, and Hellman & Friedman joining up to do a leveraged buyout. Rumor is there’s a financing package with Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and ING that would value Informa at somewhere around $4.2 billion. Of course, this takeover may not happen, either, we’ll just have to wait and see.
June 12, 2008
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You’ve got to feel sorry for long-time Dialog employees. They’ve had multiple changes in ownership. Some owners have been better than others. The latest, announced today, is ProQuest, which agreed to acquire the business from the Science division of Thomson Reuters. OK, I’ll admit to mixed feelings about all of this. I cut my online teeth on Dialog, back when it only had a few files. It was a Lockheed venture back then. It had this techy feel to it. I liked the way I could manipulate data, construct complex search strategies, and really get the information to do what I wanted it to do. It’s the command and control thing. I enjoyed understanding how it all worked. I liked the notion of technological transparency. Web search engines aren’t transparent, they don’t want you to know how they come up with results, and they aren’t targeting information professionals as their main user group.
Then Lockheed sold Dialog to Knight-Ridder. Goody, I thought, we’ll get some newspaper people in here who understand information and believe that information is meant to be published and shared. Lockheed, after all, was primarily a defence company and some of its philosophy didn’t correlate with Dialog’s. My belief is that Knight-Ridder could have done a lot more for Dialog than it did. Why it didn’t I will leave to someone else to explain.
Then Knight-Ridder sold Dialog to M.A.I.D, a London-based company that promptly renamed itself The Dialog Corporation. Again, I was encouraged that this company actually understood information, having created a well-respected (though pricey) market research database. Antagonism between top management and customers, some pricing missteps, and cultural differences maid the acquisition less than the success M.A.I.D anticipated. Financing was another issue that dogged the new company.
Next step in the acquisition trail was the sale of Dialog to Thomson. Now, I come from a financial services background. My initial use of Dialog was in that context. I’ve always thought of Dialog as a business resource. However, I realize that information professionals in other industries relied upon Dialog for scientific, technical, and medical information. Humanities and social sciences were also part of the original offerings of Dialog. Legal information was never a strong area for Dialog. I expected Dialog to join Thomson as part of its Finance division. Thomson put it under its Scientific division. It then split off the M.A.I.D-conceived products and put them into the Legal division (read West). When that happened, it became clear to me that Dialog was no longer a company; it was a product line of Thomson Scientific.
Not to put down Thomson Scientific, for I think much of what they do is admirable, but Dialog wasn’t the best of fits. It was too eclectic and not scientific enough. Sure, it’s got some science data. In fact, it’s got some of the same data that Scientific puts into other product lines, just packaged differently. The emphasis on business, humanities and social sciences began to fade. Dialog’s technical platform didn’t progress much. Dialog Classic looks pretty much as it did when I first learned the Dialog command language.
So I probably wasn’t the only one to notice that Dialog was looking a whole lot like the unwanted stepchild of Thomson. And Thomson was distracted buying Reuters, a huge, major acquisition, which makes all of the Dialog ownership changes look like small potatoes. ProQuest undoubtedly noticed this as well. Hence their agreement to acquire Dialog.
Here’s the good part: Dialog now has an owner solidly and completely and competently in the information business. ProQuest has the same market as Dialog’s–libraries. Maybe ProQuest, itself the result of the purchase of the original ProQuest by Cambridge Information Group, can restore Dialog to its former glory. But it certainly won’t make Dialog a company; it will remain a product line, in all probability.
Is there a bad part? I don’t know. There are real technical deficiencies. Dialog is nowhere near looking like a 2.0 platform. It desperately needs to be brought into the 21st century. Will ProQuest keep the Quantum program? I hope so, as it’s one of the best things Dialog does. Part of the agreement is that the Thomson Reuters content will continue to flow through Dialog. These are some major databases: Investext, World Patents Index, SciSearch and Social SciSearch, BIOSIS, and TrademarkScan. Obviously, the CSA databases will remain or be added back, depending on the status of the files. But what about other content on Dialog? Is the entire notion of "one stop shopping" for search obsolete in the professional search environment? Has web search taken over that moniker? Are we back to silos of information when we’re talking about premium content?
There is still the remote possibility that this acquisition won’t happen. Very remote. The deal will probably close in the next 30 days or so, after employees around the world have been contacted. Then we’ll see what this latest ownership change will mean for the online information pioneer called Dialog.