Reply to Library Shop Classes | The Sheridan Libraries Blog

Replied to Library Shop Classes by Robin Sinn (The Sheridan Libraries Blog)

Library shop classes? Of course!

wrenches & pliers by Ron Wiecki via Flickr

The Sheridan Libraries offers many tools to help you with your library research. While you can always stop at the Reference Consultation Office on M Level, use our Ask a Librarian service, or contact your liaison librarian with any questions you may have, we also offer workshops about specific tools. These tools include databases and citation management programs.

Below is a list of our Fall Workshops, with links for registration.

Refworks 2.0 Workshops
Tues., Sept. 20, 2011, 11:00-12:00 Wed., Sept. 21, 2011, 4:00-5:00 One class can help trim hours off your time spent researching and writing. Come learn the secrets of organized citations and easy, quick bibliographies.

Citation and Organization Tools
Wed., Sept. 28, 2011, 2:00-3:00 Wondering what tools can help keep you and your papers organized? We provide a comparison and overview of several popular tools. RefWorks, Mendeley, Zotero, and Papers will be included.

Scopus and Web of Science
Wed., Sept. 28, 2011, 4:30-5:30 Help your research and save your time: learn to use these two powerful tools in the most effective ways. Feel free to bring topics that we can use as search examples!

Making the Best of Google
Tues., Oct. 4, 2011, 4:00-5:00 You seek. But do you find? Join us for a tour of Google, Google Scholar, and Google Books. Learn how they really work and how to make the best use of each.

E-Books for Academics
Wed., Oct. 5, 2011, 4:30-5:30 We love reading our fun fiction on our mobile devices, but the JHU libraries have 1 million academic e-books as well. Bring your e-readers, tablets, and any mobile device that you use to read books. Find out which e-books can/can't be downloaded directly to your e-device, and practice while the librarians are there to help.

Copyright and Fair Use 
Wed., Oct. 12, 2011, 10:30-11:30 With the increasing use of images, music, and other kinds of audio-visual resources as well as the delivery of course content through online course management systems like Blackboard, scholars and academic institutions are facing challenges as to what constitutes fair use and what does not. Therefore, the aim of this workshop is to create awareness about some of the challenges related to copyright and provide an electronic toolkit for the participants.

History Detectives: The Crystal Palace and the Great Exhibition
Wed., Oct. 12, 2011, 6:00-7:00 Want to impress your friends and professors alike with research skills that would surpass those of Sherlock Holmes? Detective-Librarians Chella and Heidi will lead you on a madcap journey through Victorian London as we discover the secrets of the Crystal Palace. Gumshoes will have the opportunity to put together their own case files explaining the who, what, when, where, and whys of the Crystal Palace!

PubMed
Wed., Oct. 26, 2011, 5:00-6:00 Great tips for using the tools within PubMed that will help you find exactly what you want, much more quickly. You'll be able to practice online, too, while the librarians are there to help!

I hope that some discusses LibX in some of these presentations. It’s my favorite new research tool!

On Choosing Your Own Textbooks

Enterprising students are either looking online for what those fall textbooks will be, or contacting their professors for booklists so they can begin pre-reading material. Here's some general advice for choosing the right textbook for your educational goals.

We’re just past mid-summer. This means that most professors have just put in their book orders with bookstores for their fall courses if they haven’t already done so months ago. Enterprising students are either looking online for what those fall textbooks will be, or contacting their professors for booklists so they can begin pre-reading material.

Textbooks

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s ProfHacker Blog recently published an article by Erin Templeton entitled “Read Ahead to Get Ahead? Not so Fast” in which she stated a philosophy in which reading ahead might not be such a good idea. I certainly understand the point of view of withholding a reading list for the reasons mentioned particularly for fiction classes, though I would personally tend to use her spectacular advice given in the last paragraph. Unfortunately, for the broader topic of textbooks, I think it’s disingenuous to take such a narrow view as fiction (and similar) classes are a small segment of the market. If nothing, the headline certainly makes for excellent link-bait as the blogosphere would define it.

From the broader perspective, it is generally a good idea to get copies of the reading list early and get a jump start on the material. But more than this, there is actually a better way of approaching the idea of textbooks, particularly for the dedicated student.

It’s more than once been my experience that the professor chooses the worst text available for a particular course – perhaps because she doesn’t care, because it was the cheapest, because she liked the textbook salesperson, because it’s the “standard” text used by everyone in the field despite its obvious flaws, because it’s the legacy text prescribed by the department, because it’s the text she used in graduate school, because she wrote it, or simply because the deadline for ordering for the bookstore was looming and wanted the task out of the way.  Maybe she actually put in a great deal of work and research choosing the book six years ago but hasn’t compared any texts since then and there are two new books on the market and her previous second choice has been significantly updated and all of them may be better choices now.

Historically, it used to be the case that the first job the student faced was to do some research to choose their own textbook! Sadly — especially as most courses have dozens of excellent potential texts available for use — this concept has long since disappeared. How can this travesty be remedied?

The first step is realizing that when the course guide says that a book is “required” it really means that it’s recommended. Occasionally, for some courses or in-class work (think literature classes where everyone is reading the same text because absolutely no alternates are available), actually having the required text may be very beneficial, but more often than not, not having the particular text really isn’t a big issue. One can always borrow a classmate’s text for a moment or consult a copy from a local library or from the library reserves as most colleges put their required textbooks aside for just such a use.

When taking a course myself, I’ll visit the library, local bookstores, and even browse online and pull every text I can get my hands on as well as some supplemental texts about a particular topic. I’ll cull through recommended reading lists for similar courses at other universities.  Then I’ll spend a day or two browsing through them to judge their general level of sophistication, the soundness of their didactic presentation, the amount of information they contain, what other texts they cite, are there excessive typos, are they well edited, do the graphs, charts, or diagrams assist in learning, find out if the third edition is really better than the second to justify the eighty dollar price differential, and a variety of other criteria depending on the text, the class, and the level of difficulty. In short, I do what I would hope any other professor would do herself, as one can’t always trust that they’ve done their own homework.

Naturally I’m not able to do this research from the same perspective as the professor, and this is something that I take into account when choosing my own textbook. More often than not many professors are thrilled to engage in a discussion about the available textbooks and what they like and dislike about each and which alternates might be more suitable for individual students depending on what they hope to get out of the class.  But doing this research certainly gives me a much broader perspective on what I’m about to learn: what are the general topics? what are the differing perspectives? what do alternate presentations look like? what might I be missing? how do the tables of contents differ? how has the level of the material progressed in the past decade or the last century? Finally I choose my own textbook for personal learning throughout the semester. I may occasionally supplement it with those I’ve researched or the one recommended (aka “required”) by the professor or may read library reserve copies or take the requisite homework problems/questions from them. I find that in doing this type of research greatly enhances what I’m about to learn and is far more useful than simply taking the required text and bargain hunting for the best price among five online retailers. In fact, one might argue that forcing students to choose their own textbooks will not only help draw them into the topic, but it will also tend to enhance their ability to think, rationalize, and make better decisions not only as it relates to the coursework at hand but later on in life itself.

Often textbooks will cover things from drastically different perspectives. As a simple example, let’s take the topic of statistics.  There are dozens of broad-based statistics texts which try to be everything for everybody, but what if, as a student, I know I’m more interested in a directed area of application for my statistics study? I could easily find several textbooks geared specifically towards biology, economics, business, electrical engineering and even psychology.  Even within the subcategory of electrical engineering there are probability and statistics books aimed at the beginner, the more advanced student, and even texts which are geared very specifically toward the budding information theorist.  Perhaps as a student I might be better off using texts from writers like Pfeiffer, Leon-Garcia, or one of Renyi’s textbooks instead of a more broadly based engineering text like that of Walpole, Myers, Myers, and Ye? And even in this very small subsection of four books there is a fairly broad group of presentations made.

I think it’s entirely likely that a student studying a given topic will be much better motivated if she’s better engaged by the range of applications and subtopics which appeal more to her interests and future studies than being forced into using one of the more generic textbooks which try to cover 20 different applications. Naturally I’ll agree that having exposure to these other topics can be useful within the context of a broader liberal arts setting, but won’t the student who’s compared 20 different textbooks have naturally absorbed some of this in the process or get it from the professors lectures on the subject?

For the student, doing this type of choose-your-own-textbook research also has the lovely side effect of showing them where they stand in a particular subject. If they need remedial help, they’re already aware of what books they can turn to. Or, alternately, if they’re bored, they can jump ahead or use an alternate and more advanced text. The enterprising student may realize that the professor requires text A, but uses text B to draw from for lectures, and text C for formulating (often read: stealing) quiz and test material. Perhaps while using an alternate text they’ll become aware of subtopics and applications to which they might not have otherwise been privy.

Finally and fortuitously, it also doesn’t take more than a few moments to realize what wonderful and profound effects that such a competitive book choosing strategy will have on the textbook industry if it were widely adopted! I’d imagine there would be a much larger amount of direct competition in the textbook market which would almost necessitate newer and better textbooks at significantly reduced prices.

If you’re a student, I hope you’ll take the time for one of your upcoming classes to try this method and select your own “required” textbook as well as one or two recommended texts. I’m sure you’ll not only be more engaged by the subject, but that you’ll find the small amount of additional work well worth the effort. If you’re a professor, I hope you might not require a particular textbook for your next course, but might rather suggest a broad handful of interesting textbooks based on your own experience and spend 15 minutes of class time discussing the texts before making the student’s first assignment to choose their own textbook (and possibly subsequently asking them why they chose it.)

 

Darwin Library, Now Online, Reveals Mind of 19th-Century Naturalist

A portion of Charles Darwin’s vast scientific library—including handwritten notes that the 19-century English naturalist scribbled in the margins of his books—has been digitized and is available online.

Charles Darwin’s Library from the Biodiversity Heritage Library

A portion of Charles Darwin’s vast scientific library—including handwritten notes that the 19-century English naturalist scribbled in the margins of his books—has been digitized and is available online. Readers can now get a firsthand look into the mind of the man behind the theory of evolution.

The project to digitize Darwin’s extensive library, which includes 1,480 scientific books, was a joint effort with the University of Cambridge, the Darwin Manuscripts Project at the American Museum of Natural History, the Natural History Museum in Britain, and the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

The digital library, which includes 330 of the most heavily annotated books in the collection, is fully indexed—allowing readers to search through transcriptions of the naturalist’s handwritten notes that were compiled by the Darwin scholars Mario A. Di Gregorio and Nick Gill in 1990.

The Chronicle of Higher Education
in Darwin Library, Now Online, Reveals Mind of 19th-Century Naturalist

 

New Measures of Scholarly Impact | Inside Higher Ed

Read New Measures of Scholarly Impact (insidehighered.com)
Data analytics are changing the ways to judge the influence of papers and journals.

This article from earlier in the month has some potentially profound affects on the research and scientific communities. Some of the work and research being done here will also have significant affect on social media communities in the future as well.

The base question is are citations the best indicator of impact, or are there other better emerging methods of indicating the impact of scholarly work?

In Law Schools, Grades Go Up, Just Like That

Bookmarked In Law Schools, Grades Go Up, Just Like That (New York Times)
In the last two years, at least 10 law schools have made their grading systems more lenient to give their students a better chance in a soft job market.

Is GPA tampering and grade inflation going too far with changes like this?

Brief Review: Santiago Ramón y Cajal’s “Advice for a Young Investigator”

Read Advice for a Young Investigator (1852-1934)
Advice for a Young Investigator Book Cover Advice for a Young Investigator
Santiago Ramón y Cajal
Biography & Autobiography
MIT Press
2004
book (paperback)
150
Library

This recently rediscovered classic, first published in 1897, is an anecdotal guide for the perplexed new scientific investigator as well as a refreshing resource for the old pro.

Book Cover for Advice for a Young Investigator
Written by Santiago Ramon y Cajal and translated by Larry W. Swanson and Neely Swanson.

This is certainly worth the read for the high qualities of its translation and vocabulary. There are lots of great aphorisms and brilliant bits of advice. Some of the parts about patriotism and information about things like picking a wife are anachronistically funny to read 100+ years after they were written.