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www.chuukaku.com

Katie Fraser's blog and website

I'm an academic librarian, working in the UK Higher Educational sector, supporting academics and students. Prior to this, I was a researcher, working with social and learning technologies.

My interests include the application of emerging and traditional technologies, research support in libraries, learning spaces, evidence-based practice and the professional development of library and information workers.

You can find out more about more about me from the links to the left. Note that the views expressed on this website/blog are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other individual or organisation.



The complexities of Chemical Information

June 29th, 2010

This post was originally written by me and posted on the University of Leicester library blog at http://uollibraryblog.wordpress.com/2010/06/29/the-complexities-of-chemical-information/. It is replicated here to preserve this blog as a central record of my professional development.

Royal Chemistry Society London headquartersIn May I visited the London headquarters of the Royal Chemistry Society in Burlington House to attend an event entitled ‘Chemical Information for the Chemist and Non-Chemist’. As I’m new to the world of Chemical Information (albeit armed with my knowledge of information resources and an A level in Chemistry) I’d been looking out for a session to expand my knowledge and this seemed perfect. For those interested, the slides are available on the CICAG (Chemical Information and Computer Applications Group) website – just click on ‘previous meetings’, but here I wanted to talk a little bit about what I learnt about chemical information in general at the event.

Since I started getting up to speed with Chemical Information resources I’ve been fascinated by the unique search mechanism of molecular structure. The majority of chemistry-focused databases cross-reference the literature with  molecular structures.. This means you can draw a molecule, and then search for articles referring to it. As David Walsh (whose presentation has informed much of my thoughts in this particular post) noted at the event, the naming of chemicals changes constantly according to fashion, the property of the chemical that a particular scientists wants to emphasise, and according to commercial concerns (for example, using trade names, or local laboratory numbers). Drawing the chemical allows you to by-pass a large number of these problems.

Molecular structure of phenylethylamine, used under Creative  Commons licence, courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/ideonexus/

Molecular structure of phenylethylamine, used under Creative Commons licence, courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/ideonexus/

This seems like  the perfect search tool! Surely a mechanism allowing such exact searching means that the core information professional’s toolkit – define your keywords, perform the search, alter keywords, perform your search, iterate until satisfied or exhausted – seems almost redundant? Well, unfortunately for simplicity, but luckily for making information professionals feel useful, this isn’t the case. A lot of the time there’s reason to search for something that’s either more or less specific than a molecular structure.

For example, when patents are registered for chemicals they usually use something known as the Markush structure – a molecular diagram which records certain key aspects of a compound, but allows for certain points on that structure to be substituted by a variety of different sub-structures. This indicates that a lot of the time one exact molecular structure can be too specific. On the other hand, sometimes a molecular diagram is not specific enough. For example, the stereochemistry studies at the arrangement of atoms within a compound. When compounds with the same molecular structure are arranged differently, this can give two apparently identical compounds different chemical and physical properties.

RSC newsletters inside Burlington HouseThese different degrees of specificity have interesting implications for the type of keyword generation that needs to happen in searching for chemical information. In a lot of subject areas I’d advise looking to see what’s available in the literature before deciding how specific to be in search terms: in a little studied area you tend to go quite wide and gather in a lot of related literature; in a widely studied area you can afford to be quite specific. However, in chemical information you can define up-front whether you’re interested  in a wide group of compounds or just a very specific isomer and use this to inform your search. The downside being that the beautifully simple molecular structure search isn’t always the one you want.

Over the summer I’ll be thinking more about how the different kinds of information used in Chemistry affect the way it can be taught, and learning more about the different kinds of notation that are used. I’d highly recommend looking at David Walsh’s slides, entitled ‘What Makes Chemical Information Different?’ from the event to get a good overview of many of the different types of notation used. However, I think cramming all of these into a one hour session might make students cry!


Mashed Library Liverpool

June 12th, 2010

This post was originally written by me and posted on the University of Leicester library blog at http://uollibraryblog.wordpress.com/2010/07/12/mashed-library-liverpool/. It is replicated here to preserve this blog as a central record of my professional development.

Liver and Mash, Parr Street Studios, Liverpool

Photograph of Liver and Mash, used under Creative Commons licence, courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/rbainfo

I went to my first Mashed Library event, Mash Oop North, in Huddersfield in July 2009, had a fantastic time, and was pleased to go back to Liver and Mash in Liverpool in May this year. The Mashed Library events unfold in a relatively informal unconference format, with lots of discussion of ideas and ways of quickly and easily implementing mash-ups in library and information services.

This post won’t be so much a reflection on the event as a collection of tools and ideas which I found inspiring, and hope to come back to over time. Hopefully there’ll be something to inspire others too.

Liver and Mash started with an OCLC Mashathon, a workshop that OCLC have run around the world looking at how OCLC services can be used in mash-ups to create new uses for data. Karen Coombs from OCLC has blogged a little about the Mashathon here. OCLC offer a wide range of services and resources, here are a couple which caught my eye:

  • The Worldcat Basic API is available free for up to 1,000 queries a day (assuming non-commercial use) and can return a list of books held in OCLC’s comprehensive Worldcat Catalogue from a query. The list is returned in RSS or Atom format, and can be formatted by a number of standard citation guidelines. I’d be wary of using it long-term on an academic library site with the query limit, but there are further options available to those subscribing to OCLC services.

Unfortunately, we were lacking a reliable wireless signal on the day, so weren’t able to develop much on site. The second day, however, moved on to a wider variety of applications, so I was able to take notes and experiment later. Again, here’s a selected few:

  • Tony Hirst from the Open University spoke about gathering data on use of library websites (e.g. via Google Analytics), and segmenting users into groups by types of behaviour. Gathering behavioural data definitely sounds like something I’ll need to think about in our forthcoming redesign of the library website as part of the team moving the site to the University’s new content management system, Plone.
  • Julian Cheal from the University of Bath, demonstrated some ways of using RFID. I’ve long had a bee in my bonnet about the limited uses (issue and return) we have for RFID in libraries considering we’re one of the biggest users of the technology, and it was interesting to see demonstrations of library cards generating prompts and information as users entered the library or carried out library-related activities.
  • Lastly, John McKerrell talked about using maps in mash-ups. Maps are something I’ve seen used quite a lot on library websites, but only occasionally do these services go far beyond embedding Google Maps. Services which particularly stood out were Mapstraction – which allows web developers to switch quickly and easily between different map services, Get Lat Lon – which is a quick and easy way of finding latitude and longitude values for a given location, and OpenStreetMap – a free, collaboratively-edited map.

While I’ve not jumped in and used any of these services straight away, both the Mashed Library events I’ve been to have really opened my eyes to the wide variety of options available to me for using and integrating data on the web. You may see a few of these services turning up on the library website as we get further down the line with the Plone rollout! To finish the post, here’s a video of Liver and Mash, which I think catches the atmosphere and creativity of the event pretty well: YouTube video of Mashed Library Liverpool.


Information Literacy within our Institution: Thoughts from LILAC

April 15th, 2010

This post was originally written by me and posted on the University of Leicester library blog at http://uollibraryblog.wordpress.com/2010/04/15/1266/. It is replicated here to preserve this blog as a central record of my professional development.

LILAC Tweet Wordle

Word Cloud of tweets during LILAC 2010 courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/davepattern/

Just before Easter I attended the Librarians’ Information Literacy Annual Conference, held this year in Limerick, Ireland. It was my first chance to step back and think about my new role as an Information Librarian at the university, so great timing for me.

I attended a range of different talks on areas relevant to my own personal development (on librarians’ roles as teachers, and case studies of online tool use), but in this post I’m focusing on talks which I felt had institutional significance in terms of what we’re doing with information literacy, how we’re doing it, and what else we can do.

What are we doing?
The amount and kind of information literacy teaching inevitably varies within as well as between institutions: different courses and different disciplines have different needs. However, when responsibilities for information literacy are split between different departments and services across a university there are obvious benefits from tracking who does what: to make sure students acquire key skills, and to identify opportunities for collaboration. I believe librarians, as specialists in the area, have the responsibility to make sure these skills are developed, even if we are not always responsible for delivering them ourselves.

Gillian Fielding’s presentation on The Information Literacy Audit at the University of Salford described an institutional audit as one way of doing this. The team at Salford took a checklist of key information skills to programme leaders across the university to determine what training was provided, how it was provided, at which level (pre-entry, induction, year 1, 2, or 3, or at Masters or PhD) and by which department / service. Despite difficulties with timing of the audit 70% of undergraduate course leaders participated, and it seemed like a really good way of opening up dialogues between central services and departments about what needs covering and how it can be offered. It certainly sounded like information I’d find useful, although they did have large number of subject specialists to carry out the audit compared to us!

How are we doing it?
One of the big themes of the conference for me was about how the library collaborates with others in the university. In fact, the workshop I was at the conference to lead (focusing on central services’ roles in supporting research student communities of practice) was looking explicitly at the library’s role in the wider university community. Sophie Bury from York University in Canada covered a similar theme in her presentation on academics’ views of information literacy.

The academics she surveyed pretty universally agreed that information literacy skills (as defined by the ACRL standards) were important. Furthermore, the majority thought librarians and academics should be working together to deliver sessions, a finding that she noted was echoed in some previous studies, with others suggesting that librarians should be handling this area. However, she also found a fairly even split between academics believing that sesssions should take place outside or within class time. This is an ongoing issue: sessions which take places outside of class time are not as well attended, but it’s easy to understand why academics are reluctant to jettison discipline-specific content for more general skills. How we fit information literacy into the student experience AND the student timetable is something I’ll be thinking about more over the summer as I look at my teaching for next year.

What else can we do?
Finally, as well as more ‘traditional’ information literacy, the conference also got me thinking about ways in which information literacy teaching can impact on a broader range of skills (see also Selina’s previous post about Critical Appraisal). Stephanie Rosenblatt from California State University gave a talk entitled They can find it, but they don’t know what to do with it looking at students’ use of academic literature and found that students were already competent enough at finding scholarly literature (the main focus of her teaching) but that they didn’t know how to use the academic materials. Should librarians be developing a more rounded approach to teaching information literacy? Aoife Geraghty and her colleagues from the Writing Centre at the University of Limerick discussed a way in which centralised student services could work together to support such activities.

Lastly, Andy Jackson from the University of Dundee ran a workshop on generic graduate attributes, challenging us to develop attributes such as ‘cultural and social and ethics’ into teaching Endnote and Refworks use. This was immense fun (once we’d worked out that attribution and intellectual property could be seen as cultural and social ethical issues!) and made me think about all the different angles and educational opportunities that even the most basic software training workshops offer.

Where Now?
The conference ended with a Keynote from Dr Ralph Catts talking about developing our research methods and evaluation (in time for the conference next year!). The appeal for librarians to involve educational researchers in their planning and evaluation was a little misplaced for me (I have a background in educational research, and was rankled by the implication that librarians universally lacked the ability to evaluate, rather than the resources to do so). However, I think his message about the importance of evidence in instigating, developing and evaluating our practices was sound. I definitely hope to use the research I learnt about at LILAC in the next few months, and I hope to do more reflection and evaluation as I settle in to the post.