Semester in Full Swing

In my first classes of this semester, with doctoral/post-doctoral students from a variety of STEM disciplines, I began by asking them questions instead of simply lecturing, including  provocative questions (Why isn’t there a global online library? Does it matter?). The students liked this.

I also asked the students to write for ten minutes about the difficulties they encounter when performing academic literature searches, and the results – while not surprising – confirm how hard it is for end users to understand why the online academic environment exists in its current form. Content here, content there, duplicated content…it defies logic.

Additional Reading

Himmelstein, D.S., Romero, A.R., McLaughlin, S.R., Greshake Tzovaras, B., Greene, C.S. (2017). Sci-Hub provides access to nearly all scholarly literature. PeerJ Preprints 5:e3100v2

Houle, L. (2017). Google Scholar, Sci-Hub and LibGen: Could they be our New Partners? Proceedings of the IATUL Conferences. Paper 3.

McKenzie, L. (2017). Sci-Hub’s cache of pirated papers is so big, subscription journals are doomed, data analyst suggests. Science News.

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Ahoj, summer 2017!

Just a shout out to our amazing team and summer interns (Bachelor students from Turkey & the US). Farewell, summer.

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IATUL Proceedings Available



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Post-IFLA Ruminations

Contrary to my initial plans, I decided not to post during the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) conference. Yes, there was the infamous, always spectacular cultural evening, but it wasn’t the beer or silent disco that caused a lingering sense of dread in my stomach. Something else was getting to me, and the feeling isn’t departing, like the rainclouds swirling over Texas.

Maybe I’m getting old, maybe I’ve worked on the outside edge of academia too long, maybe it’s the graffiti of Angela Merkel in a noose I saw on the subway this morning, but something doesn’t feel quite right. I’m sure this is a familiar feeling to many of you.

Post-IFLA, in relation to science communications, I can summarize the feeling as this: there’s a lot of good work going on in many directions, there is a global organization working towards solving big issues (including work on a Global Vision), but there is a key area in which I personally believe academic libraries could (must?) – at the global level – work more closely to improve their support of key, open science infrastructures outside the commercial sphere. Some of us touched upon this during our IFLA conversations and in blog/Twitter conversations over the past few weeks, and it’s really been bothering me of late.

It is crucially important to ensure long-term preservation and broader (open) access to authentic and trusted scientific information, considering efforts such as the German Big Flip and following tenants similar to those outlined by the IFLA Law Libraries section in its 2016 Statement on Government Provision of Public Legal Information in the Digital Age.

Take a moment now to read both the article and the statement, then sit back and imagine a future IFLA Statement on Provision of Public Scientific Information in the Digital Age, backed up by implementation worldwide (difficult, but not impossible).

Crucial to this concept in relation to science in the battle against quasi-scientific information is the following (IFLA Law Libraries Section, 2017) that:

…providers also need to take responsibility for ensuring that the content they post is available to all, at no fee, that the content is authentic and trustworthy, and that it is preserved for public use over time in cooperation with memory institutions.

Yes, this would take effort in developing better global mechanisms for ensuring the content is authentic and trustworthy, but there are existing reputation-based models for this already in existence (ResearchGate, arXiv) – this wouldn’t necessarily involve bureaucratic committees, DRM, and the like. Imagine if academic libraries and scientific professional organizations banded together, globally, to tackle this aspect of the problem, in a non-commercial manner.

It would solve many of our problems, including:

  1. No need to worry about P2P servers or educate people about them: To repeat, the biggest problem with P2P servers (legal issues aside), from my perspective, is the potential for fake copies to be placed on servers purposefully in order to mislead other scientists or members of the public.  If authentic and trusted copies are openly available via search engines (and let me get wild and crazy here and even dream about a really robust non-commercial search engine), there is no need for P2P servers.
  2. Counteracting quasi-science beyond the journalistic realm: Members of the public would have easy access to official and authentic original research (and data) which might be inaccessible to them at present, unless their public library subscribes to expensive databases or their university provides alumni or walk-in access. Sure, some non-scientists might not be understand everything, but they would at least have the original sources and be encouraged to think for themselves.

Point two is crucially important, and I will talk about that in future posts.

Additional Reading

IFLA Law Libraries Section. IFLA Statement on Government Provision of Public Legal Information in the Digital Age (2016).

Vogel, G. & Kupferschmidt, K. (25 Aug. 2017). Germany seeks big flip in publishing. Science. 357(6353). 744-745. DOI: 10.1126/science.357.6353.744




Posted in Discovery, IFLA 2017, Official and Authentic Copies, P2P | Leave a comment

School of Information: Two Sample Science Gateway Projects

Via John Leslie King via the University of Michigan School of Information mailing list:

Science gateways allow science & engineering communities to access shared data, software, computing services, instruments, educational materials, and other resources specific to their disciplines.

Sample projects:

  • I-TASSER: Iterative Threading ASSEmbly Refinement (I-TASSER) is a hierarchical approach to protein structure and function prediction
  • COSMIC2:  Web platform for cryo-EM data analysis via cloud computing at the San Diego Supercomputer Center

Additional Reading

Science Gateways Community Institute (SGCI)

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IFLA Live Stream Starting Sunday, 20 August

This year, IFLA will provide a live stream of selected activities during its annual conference. And I will send reports from Wrocław, when relevant.

Additional Reading


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What’s the Ado, in Plaintext

Two random occurrences yesterday made me aware that the discussion about bepress may seem abstract to some readers here in the Czech Republic or to those who are not librarians, unless you have the time to read through the literature I have referenced. Although: I highly recommend locking yourself away and slowly savoring this referenced literature if you are involved in scholarly publishing, because it is worth it.

Therefore, after relating yesterday’s two small events, I will provide one more analysis of this topic, because recent events do – whatever the future holds – involve all of us, because they reveal problematic aspects of the infrastructure hidden below the surface of all science communications.

First occurrence yesterday: I was trying – really trying – to explain a particular library infrastructure to a research colleague. In describing this infrastructure, my colleague’s eyes began to glaze over, so I stopped my attempt midsentence and fell silent. After a moment, my colleague said thoughtfully: “You know, I still really like [P2P server X]. But there are some books that aren’t there. When I check the library, they are never available [for local idiosyncratic reasons not directly relevant to this post]. You know what would really be helpful? Having those books.”

Second occurrence: My mom told me she reads the post and does understand it, though not all the technical phrases.

Therefore, I will try to provide an analogy of recent events here that might make sense to anyone, using Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose (you see, my mom loves mysteries and will relate).

Deep in Italy, in the year 1327, curious events take place at an abbey. An abbey which has a mysterious library, the Labyrinthus Aedificium:


This library, storing knowledge from across the ages and from all corners of the world, has come under the rule of Jorge from Burgos, who has closed the library to the public (to put it in modern terms) and is particularly concerned about access to Aristotle’s Poetics, Book II, on Comedy. A representative of those who believe in logic, Brother William of Baskerville, investigates this “gated library” situation, in which Jorge is willing to murder anyone trying to gain access to the legendary Aristotelian book and its (in his eyes) inflammatory content.

In the end, the Labyrinthus Aedificium is burned to a crisp, but other libraries remain – although no one knows if there are additional Poetics, Book II copies. With or without Comedy, humankind’s legacy of scientific knowledge remains intact because of a redundant system (i.e., multiple copies of physical manuscripts) held beyond the grasp of any particular Jorge(s) of the day.

In today’s world, increasing amounts of scientific knowledge are stored exclusively in electronic format. One could consider these networks to be a kind of virtual Labyrinthus Aedificium; the data, its manuscripts.

Who controls these networks, controls access to their content.

Less diversity in ownership of these networks increases the likelihood of a modern day Jorge shutting off access to things he (or she) simply doesn’t like.

While today’s academic IT and library infrastructures are still quite redundant, the acquisition of infrastructure tools and content by fewer players (let’s forget the commercial or non-commercial aspects for a moment) worries those of us who believe in redundancy and in academic libraries as being neutral protectors of humankind’s scientific legacy.

Looking in the mirror this week, we librarians were asking ourselves: have we been doing enough to protect the past, present, and future infrastructure(s) for scientific communications? This is a very big question.

Additional Reading

Eco, Umberto. (1983). The Name of the Rose.

Posted in Net Neutrality, Open Access, P2P, Science Communications Research | Leave a comment

bepress Continued: Closing the Gates on Open?

Gavia Libraria continues the discussion of the bepress acquisition, highlighting why it strikes the hearts of its original supporters and possible future scenarios, including simply letting the platform “languish undeveloped.”

Keep up with daily development’s via Schonfeld’s Twitter feed, @rschon.

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Buying Up the “Research Showcase”? Schonfeld on Elsevier+bepress

Yesterday, Roger Schonfeld’s article in The Scholarly Kitchen about Elsevier’s acquisition of bepress quickly made the rounds, appearing almost immediately on STS-L with a listserv participants’ comment: “Breaking news … I’m not sure how I feel about this.”

After reading Schonfeld’s comprehensive, detailed description of the acquisition, I myself admit having mixed feelings about what is admittedly a savvy strategic move by the Big E. Why?

To me, this acquisition provides one more example of the failure of academic libraries (i.e., non-profit entities) to cooperate more closely on cross-institutional non-profit solutions for the researchers they support. Yes, libraries did succeed at rolling out institutional repositories in many cases. But in the process of doing so, they often neglected to consider the bigger picture of the research lifecycle stretching from the lab to the final showcase – as well as intellectual property protection issues for their own solutions.

In the case of recent Elsevier acquisitions (Schonfeld describes these in detail), lack of systematic cross-institutional coordination across the “research showcasing lifecycle” by academic non-profits left the door wide open to commercial entities to swoop in and fill the gap by buying up bits of the lab-to-showcase puzzle, piece-by-piece.

As Dan Tonkery notes in a commentary to the Schonfeld article:

It is not the first time that CDL [California Digital Library] and other academic libraries have designed a product or service to only find out that their non for profit work ended up in the hands of a commercial company that was later sold off. Of course the original developers often go without compensation or recognition. The control of intellectual property at the university level is much better controlled in the sciences where new drugs are developed or medical devices, but unfortunately library tools are not so valued.

What’s to regret here? Sure, a trusted commercial partner has stepped in to, as Schonfeld says, “support academic science.” But better cooperation across institutional borders on support strategies for issues all libraries face might have led to global non-profit solutions.

Does the non-profit aspect matter? Everyone has their own answer to this, but what if bepress had gone to a non-academic financial conglomerate, as in the case of Web of Science? In the case of bepress, Schonfeld states:

When the bepress board decided to sell, the bidding for it this summer included interest from both private equity firms and a variety of purchasers with strategic interests.

Monday I got an email from Clarivate:

As a publishing author represented within Web of Science from Clarivate Analytics, you require the latest news and resources to stay current in your area of research. That’s why we think you’ll benefit from getting valuable research information.

From time to time, Web of Science Author Connect® works with other companies to provide you with information about relevant product and service offerings that may be of interest to you.

I’m not sure how to feel about this.

Additional Reading

Schonfeld, R. (2017). Elsevier Acquires bepress. The Scholarly Kitchen.


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The Tale of a Book Published

Yesterday, a colleague received a notice from an old friend about a new book he’d published, with “U.S. publisher X.” My colleague went to check out the publisher, and the first question he asked was: is this one of those predators?

Yes and no; while some libraries do collect selected items from this publisher (for example, Harvard’s collection currently includes 278 items from this press), the publisher does not have the best reputation. My colleague ended up encouraging his friend to consult with a librarian prior to publishing next time, to frankly discuss the intent of the publication and possible long-term reputational issues.

To my colleague and me, it seemed to us that self-publishing (or having this colleague’s institution set up its own quality publishing house) would be preferable to having his name associated – forever! – with this particular publisher. While I do understand the temptation and pressure to publish in English, today there are good options for printing a high-quality book independently on one’s own.

Later, taking a deeper look at the publisher’s website, I got truly terrified thinking about the scientific titles that other, even more contentious, publishers out there might be offering. In our colleague’s area, regional security, there isn’t much chance that someone will get injured by inaccurate content (or is there?). But it got me thinking: what about medical titles? What about disciplines in which inaccurate information published in “academic looking/scientific” book format might cause harm?

A couple of weeks ago, I watched a documentary about dietary supplements in the American market, which are not subject to the same regulations as pharmaceuticals. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:

Unlike drugs, supplements are not intended to treat, diagnose, prevent, or cure diseases. That means supplements should not make claims, such as ‘reduces pain’ or ‘treats heart disease.’ Claims like these can only legitimately be made for drugs, not dietary supplements. … Under existing law, including the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act passed by Congress in 1994, the FDA can take action to remove products from the market, but the agency must first establish that such products are adulterated (e.g., that the product is unsafe) or misbranded (e.g., that the labeling is false or misleading).

To me it seems that publishers who do not impose rigorous review standards over their content are in some way acting like the makers of supplements, and this leads to a situation in which the buyer – the library, the information user – must be vigilant and aware.

At least, in terms of supplements, if things go horribly wrong, doctors can appeal to an oversight agency and do something, at the national level.

But in publishing right now, there doesn’t really exist an appeal hotline, at any level (nationally or internationally). If someone has heard of one, please let me know.


Posted in Vanity Publishers | Leave a comment