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Archive for November, 2009

Housekeeping note

Monday, November 30th, 2009

image of Soviet hammer and sickle Over the long holiday weekend the blog’s comments were found by large numbers of Russian personal services providers. While I figure out how to handle this long-term I have turned off commenting on posts. Please feel free to email me or use the instant messaging box, and I’ll post comments indirectly.

How To Find An Article

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

One of the traditional forms of newspaper article is the news report based on a new research study. The newspaper summarizes the science for its readers, but what if you decide you want to follow up and read the original report? Tufts likely has access to whatever journal the article was published in. But the process of moving from point A to point B can be challenging.

Take this story from Science News, which reports that babies as young as two to five *days* old cry in the cadence of their native language. The basic process goes something like this: First, figure out the name and date of the journal article, Then, look up the title of the journal in the library catalog, Next, let the catalog point you in the direction of the database (or, gasp, the physical location) the article lives in, Finally, read and enjoy. This sounds worse than it is. And for those who remember, it’s a lot better than it was ten years ago.

Step 1 can be surprisingly hard. Frequently the news report says only something like “according to a new report by researchers from the Polynesian Institute of Cytotechnology”. Your best option in this case is to find another news story with more details–if one newspaper picked it up, dozens will also have done so.

Taking our Science News story:

Only days after birth, babies have a bawl with language. Newborn babies cry in melodic patterns that they have heard in adults’ conversations—even while in the womb, say medical anthropologist Kathleen Wermke of the University of Würzburg in Germany, and her colleagues. By 2 to 5 days of age, infants’ cries bear the tuneful signature of their parents’ native tongue, a sign that language learning has already commenced, the researchers report in a paper published online November 5 in Current Biology.”

That seems straightforward: published online, November 5th. Except, not so much. My attempts to find this online were met with a series of links back to the article I was starting from. So, first principles.

1) Look up “Current Biology” by title in the library catalog. I suggest this because the catalog has the most comprehensive list of the tens of thousands of journal/magazine/newspaper titles we subscribe to, and because attempts to guess which database any given article is in are hit or miss, especially outside one’s specialty.

Catalog search example; click to enlarge

2) Follow the links in the catalog to figure out what we have and where it is.

Catalog search results; click to enlarge

We have Current Biology in electronic form from 1991 to the present in our ScienceDirect database, and from 1998 to 2003 in print form at the Health Sciences library.

Current Biology catalog record; click to enlarge

3) Do a reasonable search using the details at hand.

We have the name of one of the researchers, Kathleen Wermke, which is a distinctive enough name to make a good combination. So, search for “babies language Wermke”.

Science Direct Search; click to enlarge

4) Read and enjoy. Normally you’ll want to look for the HTML or PDF label. For some reason publishers think there are lots of things you’d like to do on a journal article’s page other than, you know, read the article. Sometimes you have to dig for the full text link. This is dumb, but mysterious to me are the ways of publishers.

article found; click to enlarge

This basic process works for all searches where you have citation information for what you want. Journal of Roman Studies? Transactions of the American Philosophical Society? Same process.

Revised Google Books settlement

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Google and publishers submitted a revised settlement agreement to the court on Friday which addresses some of the concerns expressed about the previous agreement. The best coverage, as usual, is on Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Land. The Open Book Alliance, which includes Amazon and Microsoft as well as some library associations, opposed the previous settlement. It also opposes this, referring to it as “sleight of hand“–a quote which has been recopied so many times in news stories this weekend that I almost didn’t include the link here out of sheer disgust. I recommend a look at Google’s summary of new developments.

The major news for scholarly purposes is that this version of the agreement includes only American, British, Canadian, and Australian publishers. This sidesteps problems raised by the EU, Germany, and other countries with different copyright arrangements. It also makes the resulting collection of books less useful for scholarly purposes.

Much of what I want has been published in the English-speaking world, but much of it has not, and the ability to wander across something from (say) the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences is part of what makes a comprehensive digital collection valuable to me. Dan Clancy, engineering director of the project for Google, “estimates”: that at least 50% of any given university library collection would be excluded.

On the other hand, I should arguably be happy that the new deal feels much less like an existential threat to libraries. I’m not, precisely, because I think it would replicate the situation we currently have, where the freely available tools appear to be comprehensive to users but actually aren’t. I frequently talk to students using Google Scholar who are not aware that we subscribe to much of what publishers there offer to let you pay for. Complexity is job security for me, but I’d much rather have services which are self-explanatory.

Free ebooks from University of Chicago Press

Monday, November 9th, 2009

The University of Chicago Press has begun a monthly ebook giveaway. This is interesting to me for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a major university press experimenting with both a new format and with using free ebooks as publicity. Oxford University Press and others have found that making it easy to search and browse an ebook increases sales; Cory Doctorow, a sci-fi novelist, actually posts freely distributable copies of his books online and finds it increases sales (Ebooks: Neither E Nor Books).

This month’s givewaway item is Censorinus’ Birthday Book. I’m also happy to promote the work of Holt Parker, one of my professors at the University of Cincinnati. His choice of projects has always been first-rate and slightly off-beat. The download is quick and painless, and a nice introduction to Adobe’s Digital Editions software, which was the first ebook reader software I ever saw which was pretty enough to make me want to spend time in it.

Tufts has the print version of this ebook if you’re inclined to compare and contrast. We also have Parker’s translation of the works of Olympia Morata, The Complete Writings of an Italian Heretic. More of Parker’s work are findable on Worldcat.

(via Ancient World Bloggers Group and an editor friend of mine)