SMP Database Trial through April

Security Management Practices (SMP) is an expert resource on the Web for learning about how to confront and manage organizational risk, plan for disruptions, deploy network security appliances, employ biometric technologies, safeguard intellectual property, establish security best practices, protect and train students, staff and much more. Click the link below to try it out!

SMP Trial

Sneak preview at the library!

Would you like to potentially meet your next Reference Librarian?

The UAH Library is currently interviewing candidates for a new Reference Librarian.  We have two applicants scheduled to visit the UAH library on March 20 & 21, and they will each teach a short library presentation.

We would welcome the input from any faculty, staff, or students who are available 9-10 AM on either March 20 and/or March 21.

If you are interested, please join us in the library in the FRC room in North-2 (the Faculty Resource Center, at the far end of the 2nd floor), at 9 AM this Thursday/Friday.

A Quick Statistics Snapshot for the Salmon Library, February 2014

Here is a quick statistics snapshot looking back at some numbers for February 2014.

The Salmon Library had 16, 940 visitors in February, an average of slightly over 675 per day.*

We checked out 1293 books during the month. We also checked out an additional 158 books/materials through Interlibrary Loan.

For non-book check-outs, we had 131 laptop checked out and 240 checkouts of other materials (markers, keyboards, and so forth usually for our study rooms). Speaking of our study rooms, those were checked out 267 times.

Some Notes,

  • the laptops and study rooms can be checked out at the User Services desk for a period of three hours. Books are checked out based on status, from 28 days for Undergrads to 90 days for grads to 1 year for staff and faculty. See User Services Guide for more information [or call them at (256)824-6530]
  • Interlibrary Loan allows our students, faculty, and staff to request materials to which we do not have immediate access. See the Interlibrary Loan Guide to see more.
Study in your Comfort Zone

* As a special note, keep in mind that the library was closed along with the rest of the campus on February 11-13 due to snowstorms. The “per day” average will be figured for 25 days due to this (naturally). The weather for the month in general would have had other impacts on our system, but I’ll avoid speculation.

Engaging Reference: How Now, Snow Cloud? Or, researching weather data for Alabama (and beyond!)

Well, today is kind of mucky, but the two days before that were sunny and bright and warm and it’s weird to picture that just a few weeks ago, the local weather looked this:

Snowy Field in Alabama

Snow is not unheard of around here, though it can be quite uncommon. But maybe you are researching how uncommon, or how often it rains, or what the average daily temperature around here might have been in the mid-20th century. How do you do that? Well, there are a number of ways, some of which have close ties to UAH, and I figured I’d share a few of these with you.

Let’s start with the resource most local to us. You have The Alabama Climatologist, which is a kept by State Climatologist and UAH Professor, Dr. John Christy. It has links to lots of other data and keeps up regular reports on climate data. For instance, right now in the link list you have such reference sources as Climate Normals and Extremes for 1971-2000 at 141 Alabama stations (which is a pdf). It also links to several of the standard resources that I’m about to discuss more in a bit.

Keeping local, the NSSTC has an extensive collection of local climate data. Using that, you can click on, say, the monthly data only tab, and then select Huntsville [or another city from Alabama from a drop-down box], and then look at Huntsville’s data back in 1975, which looks like this (after clicking the “more” arrow):

1975 Huntsville Climate Data

The mother of all weather data sites, at least for the US, would be the National Climatic Data Center. From there, you can view monthly climate reports, local data, and other datasets. You have to “order” the data in some cases, but is free. You just have to make your selection of the data you want and then wait for the email. Returning to the Huntsville example, here is a 1995 screen from their Huntsville Airport Substation dataset (you’ll probably have to click on it to see a larger version to actually read it):

Huntsville weather data from the NCDC

There is also the old standby of Weather.gov. While it is my (and probably should be your) go-to source for forecasts and weather alerts, you can also often see weather station data for a region if you click on the city name after searching. For instance, after searching for Huntsville, AL, I get the current conditions, and then a link to see Huntsville’s local forecast office (here’s a quick diagram explaining, also showing the current conditions as I write this post!):

Huntsville conditions

This takes you to http://www.srh.noaa.gov/hun/, which gives lots of data about the current condition, the weather stations, some information useful to the local area, and the history of the stations. Other cities have similar pages, so give that a try.

One of the most interesting sites is the CoCoRaHS – Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network. What it does is take personal observations about the current conditions, include such things as the shape of flakes or size of hail, and collects them. For instance, if you want to see some data from the mid-February storms that inspired this post, you can do a search on the Daily Comments page, and see records like this, useful if you want specific contexts to conditions going on over a wide area:

CoCoRaHS Daily Comments

So how about that original question? The snow around Huntsville. Well, looking through all the various bits, I was noticing it was not exactly easy to find a good table of data about just snow [I was finding plenty about general precipitation] so I contacted Dr. John Christy, the State Climatologist mentioned above, and he graciously shared this PDF of North Alabama Seasonal Snowfall.

And what does it show? Well, take a look for yourself. This post is about the fun of finding data, what you do with it is up to you.

Of course, don’t forget our resources like ScienceDirect, Proquest: Science and Technology, and OneSearch. If you need help with any or all of these resources, feel free to contact us at the reference desk.

Before you go, though, why not look at a couple of more awesome snow pics. They are quite pretty.

Snow in Alabama, (c) Heather Floyd

Snow Covered Tree (c) Heather Floyd

Engaging Reference aims to be a series of posts about the ways you can look up types of data, information, research, files, and so forth. If you have a type of data or information you would like us to go into more depth with, you can email me at doug.bolden@uah.edu and I’ll see what I can do. 

All the images in this post are copyright 2013, Heather Floyd.

All UAH Grad Student are invited to attend our Graduate Workshop. Enjoy free pizza as you learn about the library and meet our newest librarian, Ron.

We at the Salmon Library are proud to be hosting a pair of drop-in workshops aimed at all of UAH’s wonderful graduate students, featuring:

  • free pizza and drinks,
  • demonstrations of our resources [including Interlibrary Loan, our books and databases, and more!],
  • help with looking up Dissertations/Theses,
  • demonstrations with Zotero,
  • answering whatever questions you have about us or about research in general [and how we can help you with research, naturally],
  • giving you a chance to discuss your thoughts and feelings about the library and what we can do better for you,
  • and you get to say hey to Ron Schwertfeger, our newest librarian!

    Ron Schwertfeger

    Welcome, Ron!

These are drop-in sessions, so all you have to do is pick whichever session is best for you, either March 11 (next Tuesday) or March 12 (next Wednesday), with both being from 10am to noon, and then stop by Library room 207 (inquire downstairs if you need directions). No appointment is necessary, and you do not have to stay for the whole thing. Grab a bite to eat and stay for a bit is all.

And if you can’t make this session, then feel free to drop Ron a line and he can work out a more one-on-one session with you. Or stop by the Reference Desk anytime and say you are looking for information about us or would like to have a look around the library. Or contact us in many other ways. Sure, you’ll miss the free pizza, but most of the rest still stands.

Two drop-in sessions for UAH Grad Students, March 11 and 12, from 10am to Noon.

Why We Weed: A quickish look at librarians’ seemingly most un-librarian task

If you were to stack up the things librarians do, most of them would seem very library-like in what you might call the stereotypical manner: checking out patrons, ordering books, cataloging, helping with research, organizing shelves, maintaining subscriptions, designing library instruction, hosting programs, and so forth. Depending on the size of the library, the type, and so forth, a handful of librarians might do all of those things or each task may have its own team who specializes in it.

One task that often strikes people as weird, those who even know about it, is weeding. This is when a librarian chooses which books to remove from the collection. To some, it seems counter-intuitive: librarians are meant to stockpile knowledge, to archive information, to protect the old documents. And we do those things. Or, more accuratley, those things reflect a portion of what we do. Weeding actually helps to enhance these tasks. That’s why I am going to show you a quick glance into why we do it and how.

Take a look at this Venn Diagram (more for terminology, and not to scale of any of its parts):

Considerations that go into books being kept vs weeded

As you look at those broad qualities – Useful Books, Well-Used Books, Books Otherwise Considered – I want you to take note of something the eye might have missed. There are well-used books that may not be useful, there are useful books that may not be well-used, and there are books worthy various considerations that might not be useful or well-used, but, for now, pay attention to the diagram above and notice that there are books that are not useful, not well-used, and not otherwise unique; and sometimes these books take up room on the shelves next to books that are much more fitting as resources.

And that is, very quickly, why we weed. By weeding down the books we have, we make room to order new books, we guarantee the quality of our materials, we help to provide more precise searches – you do not get 100 results where 40 of them are out of date – and it also helps with focusing the mission of the library and to address the many ways the many fields of research on our campus are constantly changing and growing and adapting to more factors than could be easily listed in a blog post of this size. It also helps to find the damaged books [covers torn or pages missing] or otherwise soiled books [it happens]. This helps to cut down on the time we might waste moving these books around, or cleaning/repairing them, or how much time is taken to organize them or to make room around them.

It, of course, is not quite that simple. Rarely is a book completely unique to our collection, completely unused, completely without merit, and so forth [though you might be surprised at how poorly some books weather a decade or two of changes in a field]. So, with the caveat that every librarian has his or her own way of handling the issue [and every type of library has its own general methodologies], something that I use kind of looks like this [with apologies to the Drake Equation]

k = 2(U*Q*R)/O*P

Where K = a book’s keepability, U = how often the book is used, Q = the quality/importance of the book, R= rarity/special considerations, O = other books on the same topic [especially those of higher quality like later editions], and P = physical defects of the book.

The more used, the higher quality, and the more unique the book, the more likely I will keep  it while the more “better” books there are out there and the more physical defects, the less likely I am to keep it. However, due to issues like budgets and with actual use by people trained in the field [professors and students actually using the book] being a better indicator than a review or two posted online, I tend to weigh the top half more than the bottom. I say “twice as weighted” in the equation, but really it is not so easy to sum up. It is always a process of consideration, and multiple factors play into it.

Before I finish, let’s take a quick look at two things that weeding is not.

First off, weeding is not censorship. It could definitely be used for such, but around here the process is used to clean out old books with out of date information that is not being used by our patrons [or is being used by our patrons when we could be identifying and providing more up-to-date information]. As an academic library, we are primarily concerned with staying in line with the needs of the campus, and some of our collection does not fit that. It might have ten or twenty years ago, but two decades is five or so wholly new classes of students, and we have to respect that. We have no interest in keeping certain viewpoints from students’ or professor’s or researcher’s eyes, we are more concerned with the statistics being forty years out of date than espousing a particular worldview. The second part of ALA’s Code of Ethics reads

We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources,

and we respect and uphold that.

Secondly, weeding is never a faultless panacea. With collections of any size, you have to rely on certain bits of data to generate a list for focus, from which a librarian goes through a number of books [generally related to the librarian's field of focus] and uses various judgments and considerations, but in every case books tend to be seen in a collective. One stack of books on a topic might have a higher density than books in another stack, and having a dozen choices to weed versus two or three can sometimes lead to books that would not have survived one stack being kept in another. And sometimes there are overlooked elements that might have kept a book if the librarian had time to go page by page or do a complete review of all the literature about the book. That sort of thing. There is also the very real possibility that books may be being used by a number of people, but then placed on the shelf with no record of the use. Believe it or not, this is one of the reasons why we request people not reshelve their own books, it allows us to at least glance what they are taking down from the shelves [the obvious other reason being that if people shelve them wrong, it becomes a disaster fairly quickly]. In the end, the weeding process is only as good as time and data allows, but here at the Salmon Library, we try to use as much of both as possible.

For those curious about the topic and would like to read more, here are some links:

Awful Library Books, whose post, there, has the same rough title as mine [by coincidence of alliteration, I presume], is a great resource to see sort of the semi-humorous side of the weeding process. They show a number of books that have survived being weeded for years, and then discuss why those books should have been long gone. Their discussion brings up many good points. In general, think of their tagline: “hoarding isn’t collection development”. It’s good advice.

Any topics about libraries or this library in particular you would like to see? I’ll do best to show some more information from behind the scenes and why we do some of thing we do.

Database Trials — IBISWorld and CRCnetBASE Engineering ebooks

Running through March 31st, Salmon Library is providing free trial access to two databases: IBISWorld and STMnetBASE ebooks.

Billed as “The largest provider of industry information in the U.S.“, IBISWorld provides thoroughly researched, accurate and current business information. This database provides a robust selection of industry analysis for areas such as market conditions and forecasting, clearer pictures of supply chains, major products and services, key statistics, or even a means of keeping up with competitor activity in an industry. IBISWorld’s comprehensive reports will keep you informed. Marketing and new product development students and faculty will especially find this a useful tool. Click here to access now!

Offered by Taylor & Francis, this collection focuses on engineering ebooks. It includes over several cutting-edge and bestselling reference works, as well covering subject areas such as: mass transfer, chemical processing and design, power engineering, telecommunications, and structural engineering, to name a few.. With access to the latest handbooks in civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering, the Engineering Collection is definitely worth exploring for engineering related topics. Click here to access now!

 

Interested in testing how fast you can read?

I’ve said it before, but the speed at which you read is often less important than the quality of what you read, the depth of your reading, and the challenge of what you read; but reading faster tends to help you to read more, which can help with those other things since the more you read, the better you tend to get at the art of reading well.

However, who among us book-lovers, librarians, and other sundry citizens of biblioville wouldn’t like a little glance into the speed of our reading? There are a number of ways to test such results, but Staples has made a quick little reading-speed test that won’t take up much of your time:

How Speed Do You Read?

That was easy! [sorry, I'm so sorry....]

Of interest to those who don’t even take the test might be the following statistics from Free-Speed-Reading.com’s What Is the Average Reading Speed of Americans?, which includes this outcome (the number is words-per-minute):

  • 3rd Grade students – 150
  • 4th Grade Students – 170
  • 8th Grade Students – 250
  • 11th Grade Students – 350
  • Average Adults – 300
  • Low Scoring College Students – 340
  • Average College Students – 450
  • High Scoring College Students – 800
  • Mid Level Executives – 340
  • High Level Executives – 575
  • College Professors – 680
  • High School Dropouts – 240

Don’t take the results too personally. As I said, reading fast is less important than reading well. And the best way to read well is to read more. The speed of your reading will increase naturally, as well.

Happy reading, Readers.

What’s a book, Precious?

When I was a wee lad in grad school (note: this was about four years ago), an argument arose with some classmates because I was reading this or that book on an Amazon Kindle (the second generation, which helps to show how many years ago four might be) and they felt that I was missing the bookness of reading. Phrases like “I only read real books” were brought up, phrases that were a bit ironic in that, to-a-person, all of the ebook detractors were huge fans of audiobooks. [We'll leave aside that many of those classmates are now, themselves, proud owners of various e-reading devices.]

These arguments helped to highlight a somewhat theoretical question that sometimes showed up in our grad school texts: “What is a book?”The question usually meant itself more in the cataloging sense, the sense of collecting information in a way that we could detail information about the information. We have a catalog, and a shelf, and what goes on the latter and how does it fit in the former?

But in that bit of practical, extracurricular argumentation, we saw another meaning to the question: why are plastic disks [and/or digital downloads] of people reading the book more of a book than a digital representation of the text and illustrations? Is bookness only of personal preference, or can the concept “bookness” be easily delineated based on some rules?

Bookless Library as a search term on Google

What I got when I did a search for "Bookless Library"

The reason the question is still important, to libraries and librarians and to lovers of information in all forms and shapes, is because society sometimes likes to pretend that such rules are readily apparently. If you do a Google search for “bookless library” you’ll be many results about BiblioTech, Bexar County[, Texas]‘s all digital library. It is a interesting concept to watch. It is not so alien to imagine a library doing well going digital-only. We have a lot of users that primarily use our extensive collection of digital books, articles, conferences, and so forth. I can fully appreciate that some patrons will prefer digital, not merely settle for it. Depending on the day, I am often one of those patrons, myself.

However, the news coverage is not that the library is digital, but that it is bookless, an altogether other term. In NPR’s coverage of the “Bookless Public Library” [as the headline reads], the opening paragraph includes the line: “The facility offers about 10,000 free e-books…”

In fact, as it goes down, it starts to sound a lot like any other public library. It has computer labs, and reading space, and offers stuff like children’s reading programs. It is only different in a particular way, and the way that this particular way is discussed is, you might say, in a particular way. There are no doubt some of you who feel the “bookless” appellative is richly deserved, but I feel we must return back to that grad school discussion of all those four years ago: why is, to some at least, an Amazon Kindle displaying a azw3 file not a book while an iPod playing an Audible aax file is? Or why are both of those not books when the exact same information displayed in another format – bound softcover or CD, for instance – are? Do these distinctions serve a purpose? To the library? To the library patron? To the casual, everyday person?

If you will, let us play a a quick word game. Read through this list of things and see which ones feel like “books” to you and which ones feel like “not-books”. It’s a bit a scattered and random [on purpose], but just make through it as you see fit.

Which of these are books?

Which of these do you feel are books?

Some of these feel obvious. Obviously are books or are obviously not books. But what I want you to consider is that the line will never be a clear one. For instance, why would Wikipedia be not a book while the Encyclopedia Britannica is [note: now that all encyclopedias are going more and more online, assume I'm discussing when they were big and printed bound volumes]? Why would The Diary of Anne Frank be a book, in printed form, while a teen’s online blog about suffering from depression not be? If you printed the latter out, would it transform into a book? Why would a collection of tables to solve TAN and COS and SIN be a book, but the TAN/COS/SIN functions on a calculator aren’t? Does the limits of the former grant it a particular power over the latter?

Are videogames books? How about books that include interactive content? How about interactive content that is fun? How about a game that shows you lots of text about the storyline but requires mild amounts of interacting to progressive? What about one for the old games like Zork? Or the Choose Your Own Adventure books [are they really books]? Or Fighting Fantasy, a similar sort of thing which required you to roll dice and map out your progress? Or how about the new digital remakes of Fighting Fantasy, that roll the dice the dice and automap but still, generally, require you to read all the original text?

Are radioplays, or audioplays [sometimes called full-text audio, like the sort that Big Finish make], books? Are audiobooks where different people read off the lines as the characters books? Are musical albums with definite narrative bent [like some prog rock and folk] books? Are books, like those on some e-reader devices, still books if you click the “text to speech” option? What if you use a device to read the words on the page of a physical, printed out “dead tree” book? Is it still a book if you do not engage it fully in the physical realm?

The point of none of those exercises was to force you to say “EVERYTHING’S A BOOK!!!”, but merely to say that there do seem to be some things that are books and some things that are not books, but the dividing line is unclear and murky at the best of times. And when people are making decisions about libraries with the assumption that libraries are places of books [and book-like things such as journals and maybe maps], and they are applying this definition to the budgets and the running and the governing and the biases of libraries, then what does this mean for libraries? How will this change the fabric of the future of information science, when it gets decided that one collection of information is a book, and fits in a library, and another is not and so should not be in a library?

The twenty-first century information landscape will, at least, be interesting.

Behind the Scenes with Chat Reference (aka, LibChat)

If you pay attention to our front page, then you probably have noticed our chat reference button. If not, here is a subtle hint:

UAH Salmon Library, Front Page
A subtle hint about where to find our chat reference

It is also located in a number of other places, such as our LibAnswers page and some of our databases/online resources. It either looks like above, or something more like the live chat picture, here.

The reason for this blog post, though, isn’t just to point out that we have chat [that's a bonus!] but to show you some of the behind the scenes with our chat service. Digital reference can feel a bit cold and detached because you miss a lot of the nuances with human interaction. This is a little bit of a way for us to show what we see, and for you to “meet” us, so you can feel more relaxed the next time you chat with us. I promise, we don’t bite, and will work with your reference/information requests to help you out and even if we cannot give you an immediate answer, we strive to get you started down the right path.

Here are five behind the scene facts for our chat reference. As a bit of a bonus fact, we use LibChat, which is provided by SpringShare. This enables us to attach it to our LibGuides account in some useful ways.

1. LibChat wasn’t our first attempt at Chat Reference.

Before LibChat, we tried out a few other resources. We had a Google Talk widget to begin with, unfortunately this was just a few weeks before Google’s Talk widgets were put to pasture. Then we tried a few resources that forwarded chats to XMPP clients (like Pidgin). One of these resources was Plupper.com, which seems defunct now. Again, about the time we started using it was about the time it went away.

We were successful with Meebo for awhile, and that represented the time that our chat service were starting to expand. However, in what is starting to sound like a broken record, Meebo was bought out by Google and subsequently shutdown.

Ah, Google.

2. The current chat team is Doug and Michael.

Behind the Chat, Doug BoldenBehind the Chat, Michael Manasco

Hi.

By the way, you know who you are chatting with because it will show our name.

3. What our screen looks like.

This is what our side of the chat looks like. Be careful if you a heart condition, these are very exciting images. By the way, eagle eyed readers might notice that one of these is staged. *wink* [the other one is an actual screenshot, though]

Chat, Behind the Scenes

In case it is not immediately obvious from those pictures, but we can see the people we are chatting with, chats in queue to be launched, and the other librarians who are currently online, as well as get notifications for a a number of LibAnswers events.

4. We have an anonymous mode available for chatting.

A number of students, faculty, and visitors like to use their first name while chatting, but there are several who like to chat anonymously. That is perfectly fine with us. We see you as guest.

Even if you chat with us anonymously, though, we get some basic metrics: IP Address, operating system, browser. These help us to respond to certain issues [by seeing if someone is on campus, by seeing if it might be a browser-related issue, etc]. Here’s what information we can see:

If you chat with us and want us to delete the transcript, you can send us an email at erefq@uah.edu and specify the chat. We keep metrics for it, but we can definitely remove the text. We also do not share your chat with anyone, for any reason, without your express permission.

5. We have a series of metrics that helps but tailor your chat experience.

When we close a chat down, we have a number of metrics that we keep. This information helps to tailor the reference experience over time.

Metrics we store after chat

If you are curious, you can read more about the READ scale. It gives a value, from 1 to 6, to represent the intensity of the chat reference. A 1 is for things that are basic information. A 3 might mean a walk through the catalog. A 5 means helping a graduate student with developing a research strategy, and so on.

Bonus: Here are some statistics about how people use our chat reference.

All of these facts are compiled from last semester and are here to give you an idea about how people are using the service.

A. The busiest day of the week is Monday, and the least busy is Friday. The other days are all about equal. (click for larger version)

Chat Frequency by Day of the Week

B. Most chats are fairly short, though they can get quite long. About 75% of our chats are between 1 and 10 minutes long. The next most popular (about 16%) are between 10-20. Very few are more than 20 minutes. (click for larger version)

Chat Length

C. Most of our chats are reference/research chats. Our most common type of chat is for reference/research purposes [chats in which people ask about looking up resources or how to find information/research]. These make up a large enough swath that we get as many of them as the other two types combined. The second most popular type is “informational”, which are often questions about hours, or for a phone number, or to find out which department to contact. The third type, “instructional”, are for chats that we help people work through [non-research] steps. Helping people to login to resources or to use some tool. (click for larger)

Chats by Type

Well, maybe this wasn’t super glamorous, but hopefully that helped to get an idea of some of what we see and how we handle it.

Have any other library features you would like to see more information about? Just let me know at doug.bolden@uah.edu and I can open up the doors a little bit.