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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.



Science Online London conference reflections

September 5th, 2010

It occurred to me recently that when I post to the University of Leicester library blog I lose the record of my activities in this, my supposedly central record of my activities! Therefore I’m going to experiment with linking in my contributions to this (and any other blogs) under the imaginatively named ‘contributions to other blogs’ category.

My reflections on Science Online London, an event looking at use of the web in science, can be found at http://uollibraryblog.wordpress.com/2010/09/05/science-online/ but I’ve also copied it in full below.

Science Online conference bag

Science Online conference bag

Yesterday I visited Science Online London (the second day). It’s subtitle is ‘How is the web changing science?’ but it’s a general mishmash of people from various walks who share an enthusiasm for science and the web, talking about what they’re doing, and how they can share this enthusiasm.

For me, the breakout sessions were the most interesting portions, so I’ll summarise those briefly with some reflections on what I learnt from them.

Tracking researcher identity: pragmatics and ethics

The first session I attended was looking at an author ID system, ORCID. Such systems try to avoid confusion between academic authors with similar namesby assigning them a unique ID. I’m already signed up to Thomson Reuter’s ResearcherID system, to give an example. This is a more top down alternative to the bottom up approach where databases use algorithms to try to differentiate between different authors. I understand these algorithms are usually successful, but perhaps because of my limited academic output, I’ve found myself lumped in with other “K Fraser”s on more than one occasion.

ORCID aims to overcome some of the reluctance researchers have to sign up to proprietary author ID systems, and offer a central, open and transparent registry instead. The session came alive in the discussion of what such a system could do – such as create a far more nuanced record of who had contributed what to a paper than the traditional author order could capture – and the ethics behind it – should a researcher’s ID keep track of rebuttals of their work? There are a lot of positives to such a system from a librarian’s perspective (easier author search, simplified tracking down of academics’ papers for the institutional repository) so it was great to have a balanced discussion from a range of stakeholders.

What scientists want (and how to give it to them)

The second breakout session I attended was part of the ‘unconference’ (essentially some sessions which were crowdsourced from attendees the previous day). This session focused on ‘users’ (which turned out to be scientists). The most interesting bits for me were a discussion of what scientists wanted from technology (they want better publication and information gathering tools: librarians take note) and one slightly awkward but fascinating section in which a marketing specialist tried to get the scientists to identify the best way to market to them.

Obviously I had my ears open for the marketing questions, as sometimes it’s hard for the library to ‘sell’ services to academics. The main message was that scientists will come and look for information as and when they need it, and so when they do come looking, you’d better be i) easy to find and ii) prepared with a pitch and some examples of how great your services are. I’m currently mulling over ways to achieve these two things as a librarian: suggestions welcome!

The “broken publishing system”: whose responsibility is it?

The last session I attended was ostensibly a discussion of open access publishing, but centred mostly on impact factors, a way of recording how widely read journal are, at the title level. Discussions with Nancy, our library bibliometrician have already highlighted to me that judging a paper by which journal it’s in is a flawed idea, but I was surprised to hear that no one in the room – publishers included – thought they were useful or valid. Somehow impact factors have been seized as a key evaluation metric, and everyone is only interested in them to the extent that others are using them to evaluate their output!

All were agreed that something should be done to avoid this focus on impact factors, but disagreement centred on whether small acts of protest at this system (opting out, voting with your feet) or a coordinated protest (demanding an overhaul of the system at the highest levels) were needed. Again, suggestions for action welcome!

Conclusions

Overall, this was an interesting conference to attend, and I felt I learnt a lot about how scientists view the services on offer to them. Oddly, however, I think maybe I’d be more comfortable presenting at it if I attended again: a lot of the sessions were based on the assumption that the audience was composed of scientists, and I felt like more like an observer than a participant in the discussion sometimes. However, participant observation is a time-honoured way of getting to know a culture better, and I’m sure I’ll use my observations to help inform the library’s development of services over the next year: maybe with something new to contribute to the discussion of scientists online at the end.


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!