25 September 2008

New issue of Information Research

The new issue of Information Research is now on the site - I hope all the links are working but if anyone comes across any that aren't please let me know.

The editorial in this issue has a short report on the reader survey we carried out recently, so I'll direct your attention to that.

Apart from the editorial, we have a total of seven papers, covering a wide array of subjects, from the extraction of variant chemical names to students' use of Web literacy skills and strategies. Something for everyone, in other words.

19 September 2008

ISIC Conference - Post conference day trip

About 20 participants summoned up the courage to take a bus trip on a very fine, but bitterly cold day. The wind was coming straight off the Siberian steppes. However, with varying cloud cover, the wind died down and we had a good trip to Trakai, a beautiful little town on several lakes, with an astonishingly located castle. We sampled a local delicacy, the kybyn on the bus on the way to Gruto Parkas, an open air museum of communist-era statuary - fascinating. Then, after lunch, back to Vilnius and goodbye to everyone heading off to New Zealand, Japan, Slovakia, the USA, France, South Africa and other destinations.

See you again in Murcia!

ISIC Conference Day 3

Another chill day, but the rain made it seem a little milder :-) Lithuania has thrown everything at us except sunshine and snow - who knows what tomorrow will bring?

We had another day of diverse topics, with simultaneous sessions in the first part of the morning. One presentation was introduced with Maori chants, which is a first for ISIC, while another was delivered by DVD in the unavoidable absence of the author - another first. Others dealt with matters as diverse as the difficulty of using search engines, the use of Wikipedia, exploring a user perspective on relevance, evaluating search engines from a user-perspective and even exploring ISIC as a professional community.

The day ended with a Panel Session on teaching information behaviour, with, en passant, some excellent demonstrations of teaching techniques.

Tomorrow there is a tour to Trakai and Gruta Park - we are definitely hoping for better weather.

17 September 2008

ISIC Conference Day 2

Day 2 is the busiest day of the conference, since there are no preliminaries and everything kicks off at 9.00 a.m., on a perishingly cold morning - for some reason, Winter has hit Lithuania early and the temperature is at least 10 degrees below normal for the time of year. However, on the principle that more bodies create more heat, this does mean the people are attending the conference instead of bunking off for a look round the town :-)

Fifteen papers were delivered today, starting with Pertti Vakkari's keynote address, which looked at the development of ISIC between 1996, when he founded the conference, and today. Not all of his conclusions were optimistic and he raised some crucial issues for the development of the research area.

Following the keynote, we had papers on a wide variety of subjects, from the role of information in development in South Africa, to the behaviour of Australian online investors and South African consulting engineers, to the users of public business information services in Japan and changes in computer scientists' behaviour over twenty years.

At 17.20 most of the participants went off on a tour of the city - I imagine that they were pretty chilly by the time they finished, but at least they may have seen the hot-air balloons floating over. What they were doing up on a day like this, heaven only knows!

ISIC Conference Day 1

The ISIC conference proper opened today, with an welcome from the Vice Rector of Vilnius University and the Deputy Speaker of the Lithuanian Parliament. With the formalities completed the main business got under way with an excellent keynote from Professor Bonnie Nardi on virtual game environments as information places - the extent of the discussion suggested that this was a topic to which the conference will return.

The day's sessions included a considerable number of papers of interest from established researchers such as Carol Kuhlthau, Ross Todd and Jannica Heinstrom from Rutgers University on testing the relevance of Kuhlthau's model of the information search process, to newcomers reporting on the conclusion of their PhD research on topics as various as the role of information in the palliative care of cancer patients to a study of how the writers of policy papers for government decide when they have 'enough' information for the purpose of the paper.

The day ended with the conference dinner in a typical Lithuanian restaurant - at which a number of well established researchers were observed enjoying the polka, to the accompaniment of a Lithuanian folk trio. An excellent time was had by all and our friends from Murcia, Spain, the venue of the conference in 2010, promised us a salsa school before the conference dinner there.

ISIC Conference

Yesterday the ISIC conference opened in Vilnius, Lithuania, with the Doctoral Workshop. We had 15 students from various parts of the world (a strong representation from Canada, interestingly) and a variety of topics. The workshop was organized by Theresa Anderson of the University of Technology, Sydney - who was a Workshop participant in 1998, an interesting example of continuity.

Following a plenary sessions, students presented their projects in small groups and enjoyed the comments from the senior researchers and other students. For those students who are working virtually alone, the opportunity to learn from others that their problems are common is reassuring.

I hope that we shall have a report on the Workshop with the students' papers in a future issue of Information Research.

07 September 2008

Flickr goodies

The photo site, Flickr, is always throwing up new ways of looking at the pictures one puts there. This is one that I only came across today and thought was worth sharing on the Weblog:

digicanon - View my most interesting photos on Flickriver

05 September 2008

Information skills for researchers

I participated in a workshop at Leed University Business School on Wednesday, which was organized on behalf of the Research Information Network, to get feedback on its report, Mind the skills gap, which I had a hand in producing along with colleagues David Allen and David Streatfield. The three of us were involved in the workshop which was managed overall by another colleague, Sharon Markless.
The participants consisted of a mixture of librarians involved in information skills training and other unversity research training staff, which enabled the discussions to take account of different perspectives. This was particularly valuable, since the report drew attention to a lack of communication at all levels in many universities and collaboration was one of the key words that came out of the discussion on how to improve the situation in the future.

OA books from Bloomsbury Academic

An interesting announcement about a new publisher and a new strategy for academic texts. Bloomsbury Academic is a new imprint from the Harry Potter publisher, Bloomsbury Publishing.
According to the press release:
All books will be made available free of charge online, with free downloads, for non-commercial purposes immediately upon publication, using Creative Commons licences. The works will also be sold as books, using the latest short-run technologies or Print on Demand (POD).

The imprint will initially publish in the Social Sciences and Humanities building thematic lists on pressing global issues, with approximately fifty new titles online and in print by the end of 2009.

The new imprint has its own Website where the FAQ contains answers to questions you might think of asking, such as:
Is this like the open access model for journals where authors (or their institutions) have to pay for the publishing process?
No, Bloomsbury Academic finances the publishing process and expects to recover its costs through sales of hardback copies.

This is an interesting development, which we shall watch with interest - Bloomsbury is taking a chance on the potential for profit from demand for print copies, which it will produce on demand. Given the usually small print runs of academic books, and some anecdotal evidence on the scale of this kind of demand, Bloomsbury may well be right.

02 September 2008

Google Chrome

The bloggers are abuzz with news of Google Chrome - the new browser from Google to be released today at, if my reckoning is right, 7.0 p.m. (UK time). The browser is described (in a very techie fashion) in an online comic from Google. There's also a more user-friendly description and some screenshots.

The memory management system would seem to be a big improvement on other browsers, but I suspect that Chrome will not take a big part of the browser 'market' - the vast majority of people still use whatever comes with what they buy, which means Internet Explorer and an increasing proportion use Firefox - 24% of those who access Information Research, for example. So, I think that, in spite of the strong brand association with Google, Chrome will struggle to make much of an impact.

Later note: 45% of readers of this Weblog use Firefox!

Later still: well, now it's out and the bloggers have been furiously testing. The conclusions seem to be that Google has something here (why is that not a surprise?). Chrome is faster to load and does a number of things faster than either Firefox or IE. The memory management seems to be a winner, since when you close tabs in Firefox a lot of memory associated with those tabs continues to be used, but with separate processes controlling separate tabs, when a tab is closed, the associated memory ceases to be used. For me, it does seem to load pages faster and I quite like the rather restrained user interface. It takes a little time to become accustomed to having the tabs right at the top of the screen, and I found myself closing them accidentally but otherwise, I haven't experienced any particular problems. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out.

And more: one idiosyncratic aspect of Chrome, which doesn't work for me, is its download function. Click on download and a small pop-up appears at the bottome of the screen, which you then click on. The options do not include "Save" - which is simply crazy. I think Google ought to re-think this one - it's messy and counter-intuitive. Perhaps the urge to be different has been taken to far.

01 September 2008

Research assessment and bibliometrics

The Higher Education Funding Councils in the UK have issued an announcement on a pilot excercise (involving twenty-two UK universities) on the use of bibliometrics in the new "Research Excellence Framework", which will take over from the Research Assessment Excercise now underway.

[As an aside, it looks as though the marketing men have infiltrated the HEFC - "Research Assessment Exercise" was obviously far too explicit for them and so it has to be something new that completely hides what is actually going on - just as the "Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals" became the totally fuzzy "Universities UK"! Makes one wonder about the intelligence of those at the top of the academic tree.]

However, back to the message. The announcement points to another document, Bibliometrics and the Research Excellence Framework. This tells us how the exercise will actually be carried out. Research output data will be collected from the participating institutions (why is this necessary, given that the HEFC already has such data for the current RAE?) and processed by Evidence Ltd., a data processing company based in Leeds.

Both documents express caution in using bibliometric indicators and the point is specifically made that journal impact factors will not be used. The bibliomtric indicators for each institution in each field will be 'normalised' by comparison with the "field norm", that is "the average number of citations for all papers published worldwide in the same field, over the same period". This is where Evidence Ltd. will need to be very careful indeed, since what constitutes the "same field" is open to wide interpretations. It will be especially risky to rely upon the journal groupings used by Web of Knowledge and SCOPUS to defined the "field". I referred in my earlier Weblog to this problem as far as defining the field of "Information Science & Library Science" is concerned, and I have no doubt that similar problems exist in other fields.

"Bibliometrics and the Research Excellence Framework" also notes that, because of the difficulty of using bibliometric indicators across all disciplines, "other indicators" will also be used. But we are not told what these "other indicators" might be - perhaps they don't actually know yet? The document also proposes the use of a "citation profile" which will show how the papers produced by a particular institution relate to "worldwide norms", so that papers are labelled, for example, "Below world average" or "Above world average". Quite what this means is difficult to understand - does HEFC seriously believe that this would be anything other than a completely arbitrary measure? Especially in social science fields, which are very much culture-bound, comparison of work done in the UK, with work carried out "worldwide" - which would actually mean (because of the volume of output) "carried out in the USA" - would simply result in nonsense.

Having retired from having anything to do with the administration of higher education I shall gaze on, fascinated, by what might emerge :-)