Saturday, October 5, 2013

Mining acknowledgements , Library DIY & creative Information literacy

After several posts in a row about discovery services, let's have a change of pace and let me share with you some interesting ideas in the world of librarianship that I am playing with lately.

1. Measuring value of special collections by mining for thanks and acknowledgements in Google books. 

I've talked about how one could track thanks and acknowledgements of your library or librarians on social media and put them together via Storify.

But what about more formal acknowledgement of thanks from Scholars?

The idea here is simple, use Google books and search through for books where Scholars acknowledge your library or librarians for assistance rendered.

I had toyed with same idea in the past, but Chris Bourg and Jacque Hettel of Standford University Library have implemented the idea far more thoroughly that I could have imagined.

 Jacque Hettel has generously shared the procedure in two blog posts so far.

1. A method for measuring "Thanks" Part 1 : A search for thankful candidates  

2. A method for measuring "Thanks"Part 2 : Scraping Query Results For Analysis In a Collaborative  Project

The first blog post is fairly obvious, you search for acknowledgements mentioning your library. The blog post gives the sample string used by Stanford University Library. I easily modified it to work with my University.

The search query used was

(~thank | ~acknowledge) & (“NUS” | “National University of Singapore” | “NUS Library” | "NUS Libraries") & (“Singapore Malaysia collection”| "Singapore-Malaysia collection" | ~library)

There were quite a few false positives and looking at some of the results, I realised I could refine it further by adding a few more search terms like names of librarians but this was good for a start.

Personally, I think the main contribution here is in the 2nd post on how to scrap the data from Google books.

This post generously shares how to extract the data, even if you have no technical knowledge by installing and using a Chrome extension. I managed to follow the instructions in a couple of minutes and pulled the data into Google docs and later Excel.

As recommended in the blog post, you probably want to show 100 results per page to speed up scraping page by page. You probably also want to refine the search by date ranges to reduce the results to something more manageable.

Chris Bourg and Jacque Hettel have clearly done a lot of thinking and work on this, and will giving a talk at The 2013 DLF Forum in Nov. So any comments and thoughts I have on this idea is likely to be pretty superficial.

But I will just share a few wild thoughts and observations.

Firstly, perhaps is the fault of my search string, but you still have to spend quite a lot of time looking through the hits extracted. In some cases, it seems the preview snippet doesn't show the key words matched for various reasons (‎Snippet view or preview version but the section is not shown for preview), so you have to throw it out, or go check the print or online copy directly if you have it.

Secondly, besides extracting those results what could one do with it? I was thinking, one could somehow use the books title extracted, somehow match it to book covers and do a "Books that would have being poorer if not for our library" online exhibition?

Thirdly, could this be extended for other sources? How about Hathitrust (overlaps with Google books also no preview)? The other obvious case here would be to try for acknowledgements in thesis and dissertations. Most libraries including ours have their own ETD (electronic thesis and dissertations) in their Institution repositories, so that would be an easy win.

Beyond that one could try sources like Proquest dissertations and thesis or other full-text source to find acknowledgements from beyond your institution.

On a broad level, this is an excellent idea to showcase the value of our librarians and collections, though one wonders if this might lead to another arms race, with libraries or librarians trying to get acknowledged if god forbid this becomes a way of evaluating performance.

2. Library DIY - a choose your own adventure type knowledge base

The always excellent Meredith Farkas blogged about her new project Library DIY a few months back

So what is it?

"The content in Library DIY is designed to mirror a reference desk transaction more so than an instruction session. Much like in a reference interview (where we elicit more specific information about the student’s need), students can drill down to just the piece of information they need rather than having to skim through a long tutorial to find what they want."

You can try it live yourself at  but essentially, it allows one to quickly drill down to the information you need, say for example if you select

"I need to find sources for my research",  you are asked "what type of sources do you need".

If you selected "I am looking for articles" to that question you would see the following

Eventually though you would of course terminate at a page with answers.

It's a really interesting and different take on how to present faqs and instructional help guide, relying on browsing rather than searching.

Reaction from librarians have been good, but as Meredith herself wisely commented librarians are a different breed from our users so we need to see if users like this as well. Or would they just prefer to search for answers?

One thought that strikes me is, we can use this "choose your own adventure" way of browsing for answers not just for students but also for internal use aka for our own librarians. Could we use this to train our own librarians? Organise our own complicated internal knowledgebase?

I believe that the site above is powered by Drupal, we don't have this here, so I am experimenting trying to duplicate this with LibGuides and Confluence wiki which we have access to.

3. Reading Walsh, Andrew and Coonan, Emma's Only Connect … Discovery pathways, library explorations, and the information adventure.

Unfortunately, I've always found books or articles on Information Literacy pretty dull, but this book put together by Andrew Walsh and Emma Coonan reads anything but that.

Available as a free e-book under a Creative Commons licence it's really worth a read.

It's one of the most creative books I have ever read, each chapter by a different author is unique and quirky. For example there is one where it is presented as a prezi, creative metaphor use - one chapter uses the playing-card metaphor, another talks about the "Fish scale of academicness" - using the "trawling for information" idea, another uses the research quest as the "Hero journey" conceit, with librarians, supervisors as wise old companions etc.

Really brilliant if you haven't seen it yet, with series of Youtube videos + simple quiz.

Part one of 9 videos with the idea of research as a hero's quest 

Parts of the book probably just go over my head, but still a very good read if you are jaded about information literacy and are looking for new ideas.


At first glance all these projects seem to be totally unconnected.  The first mining for acknowledgements is an attempt to show our value to the powers that be. While the second is an attempt to directly help our users especially those who like to DIY and "do it yourself". The third is perhaps at least partly for the librarian himself or herself for self improvement.

Still, I feel all these types of projects have value as we need to simultaneously do the following

i) do the right things - do things that our users will value. This is a hard problem, it's a problem that vexes even the biggest and most successful commercial companies, most of the time it isn't obvious what is worth doing and you can't just play this by numbers. Libraries should perhaps spend more time on this.

ii) do things right - once we identified what we should be doing, we should ensure they are done efficiently and effectively and often this involves improving back-end processes, protocols, teaching methods etc. Libraries have traditionally being very good at this because we tend to be detailed oriented and like working with facts and figures and work hard to optimize these values.

iii) communicate our value - sadly even if you do the above two, it is easy to be taken for granted, so we need to be on a look out to find ways to communicate our value or we will be overlooked. This is probably the hardest for us as a profession to do, because librarians I would say tend to be quite self-effacing.

A right balance of all 3 types of projects will help libraries thrive of course.

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