17 Sep

Google retries the dating game


07 Sep

Google Books takes on LibraryThing

Yesterday Google Books quietly launched a My Library option in Google Books, which is nothing less than a frontal assault on LibraryThing. Both services allow you to easily create a list of books you own or books you like, add comments, create RSS feeds and all those things common to the web 2.0 era. LibraryThing is richer in terms of mash-up possibilities and, being around for a while, already has a substantial base of personal libraries that are already tagged, commented etc. However, Google Books has the strategic advantage of full text search for most the books in its database and full text reading availability for many older tittles. So that allows you to full text search your personal catalogue, making it easy to answer the question “I read that somewhere, but in which books was that?”And the good news is: both services offer export and import facilities, making it relatievely easy to switch from one to the other, or even maintain both and synchronise once in a while. That is bad news for Library Thing that is charging it users for catalogues larger than 200 items (US$25 per life).

A thing I would like see however is the possibility to create several lists or ’subcatalogues’ in your account. That would be very nice for sharing reading lists (even more if also available in Google Scholar, but now I’m stretching it a wee bit too far perhaps). If you want to compare, take a look at these two simple libraries:

my library at Library Thing

my library at Google Books

03 Jul

Further reading, further linking, further thinking

What is the source students most frequently turn to initially when writing papers? …. You guessed correctly.

Is that a good thing? Yes, of course it is.

Does it have recent, up to date information? Mostly, yes.

Does it have trustworthy information? Often, but for academic writing and research it needs to be checked and balanced.

Does it have extensive information on subjects? Sometimes.

Does it give you full details, in depth descriptions, weighing of views, contexts of the specific knowledge? Mostly not.

Where can information lacking in this source be found, most of the time? …. Again, good guess!

How do students get from one to the other? Through book links in the further reading sections of Wikipedia articles of course.

Who is extremely well equipped to enrich these Wikipedia articles with further reading suggestions? Librarians, subject librarians, information specialists of course (that is we, mostly).

So, take your recent acquisitions list and check whether important titles are mentioned in the appropriate Wikipedia articles. If not, add the information. It takes 2 minutes per title. Sometimes it will take an extra 2 miutes if you have to create a further reading section first.

Take a look at the Wikipedia book citing template. Oops, that looks quite complex…but it isn’t. Just copy this string:

 {{cite book |last= |first= |authorlink= |coauthors= |title= |year= |publisher= |location= |isbn= }}

fill in the details and with it fill in the voids of a Wikipedia futher reading section. Details need not be complete, but at least enter title, last name and ISBN.

What is in it for us? People will see that Wikipedia and libraries are complementary and not adversaries. Students can simply click the ISBNs and find your library holdings through the Worldcat link offered.

If we think we have something on offer (well selected literature), we should offer it when and where our students need it most: when Wikipedia leaves them standing in the cold with a useful article that lacks further reading suggestions.

29 Jun

Scopus works on chemistry backfill

It was announced earlier, but the effects can now be seen: Scopus is working on its chemistry backfill. When we did our comparison of Scopus, WoS and GS back in 2006, Scopus boosted only a few hundred pre-1960 records. At this time there are 104.000, allmost all from chemistry journals. The coverage of post-1960 records for chemistry has risen as well: 1968 from 7000 to 9500 and coverage of 1978 publications in chemistry up from 1060 to 16720, for example. 

Let’s hope they will also start with the announced backfill of journals from Springer, APS, AIP, Nature and Elsevier to vol. 1, issue 1. soon. I also would like to see that in the end this will create a balanced backfill picture regarding the varoious subjects.

27 Jun

Spam stops, I hope

So naive of me to think that just installing professional blogging software would prevent comment spamming. First there were 3 to 5 each day, but soon 30 to 50. At last I found the time to install a plugin that recognizes humans: recaptcha. What is nice is that it helps scanning hard to read pages from books, at least so it says.

Sorry to all those that were confronted with spam from my blog.

19 Apr

Refworks promotion in the Netherlands, or: what criteria for bibliographic management software?

Refworks, challenging the monopoly of the Thomson-ISI family of bibliographic management software organised a well visited (c. 35 people) seminar in Utrecht today. Refworks claims hundreds licensing universities in the US, Britain and continental Europe, but the Netherlands still only boosts two universities working with Refworks (Rotterdam and Utrecht). Although there are some clear advantages of Refworks compared to the ISI products it seems difficult to get existing users to change to the new product. Partly this may be due to a lack of knowledge, lack of time or simply conservatism on the part of researchers, but there is also the problem of investment security. Presenting Refworks as a trial means people are not sure that their effort in learning to work with Refworks  solutions will pay back: the service may become unavailable after the trial. But to convince financial gatekeepers you have to prove that people are attracted to the system. In that sense a Refworks trial differs from trials for access to new content.

The seminar did not provide me much news, since we have been working with Refworks in some for or other for almost a year. It did produce some enthusiastic reactions however from delegates from other universities. In many institutions (e.g. Groningen) library staff are looking at web alternatives for Endnote or Reference Manager. What is good news is that we managed to convince the Refworks marketeers  of the importance to arrange direct import from Dare-net and Picarta, collated national systems for academic repositories and library catalogues respectively.

This leaves the question as to what criteria we should use to judge this kind of tools. After a year of testing, comparing and reading I can produce a list of minimum requirements:

  1. fully web-based, to avoid the fuss of installing programmes, updating to new versions and compatibility issues 
  2. easy import (1 to 4 clicks) for the most important databases (including Google Scholar)
  3. easy import and export of your full database in the most current formats (e.g. RIS, Bibtex, TAB-del.)
  4. integration with Word or other editors to cite and create bibliographies
  5. creation of bibliographies in various styles (e.g. Harvard, ALA, MLA, Chicago, although I agree with Wowter that we should get rid of the hunderds of different styles)
  6. creation of folders
  7. being able to use RSS-feeds to import references automatically
  8. sharing folders publicly by the creation of a seperate public url
  9. creation of RSS-feeds to dynamically share folders
  10. a grab function to capture bibliographic data from pages without a save function
  11. custom fields to add information to a record or use tags
  12. being able to upload images, tables etc to a record
  13. sfx compliance
  14. deduplication of records
  15. being able to create multiple accounts and multi-user accounts

To date, Refworks seems the only solution to meet all of these criteria. The ISI family is not web based  (including Endnote, Reference Manager, Procite). For Endnote there is a web version but as yet this is not fully developed, lacks good sharing possibilities and easy import. Newer web 2.0. solutions such as Connotea, Zotero, CiteUlike (and a host of others) are creative each in their own way, but most lack crucial functionality to be taken seriously as an overall solution for universities, be it SFX compliance, word processor integration or easy import functions. Of course Refworks has some minor problems as well: due to the fierce competition with Thomson-ISI they have not been able to set up direct import from Web of Science. Another problem is that if people start uploading full pfd’s of articles with their bibliographic records, server space allotted to an institution might prove too small quite rapidly, accrueing in extra costs to buy new space. And of course, it is not free…

As you know I like figures, so here is a small table comparing Refworks with Endnote and Endnote-web in the number of databases for which there is direct import or import through an intermediate save/import action, and the number of clicks needed to import a reference from the 41 most used bibliographic databases in our university. It comes from an internal report we did on bibliographic management tools for our university. We did not look at grab-it/scraping possibilities to import references.

06 Apr

Vinden en verbinden (finding and linking)

Today, well by now yesterday, I visited a full day Dutch academic libraries seminar on the future of bibliographic control, much discussed in de US, but also here at home in the Netherlands. This session was born out of a comparable one held a year ago. There where 6 speakers. I was much impressed by the contribution of Barend Mons on wiki’s. Not the regular stuff about sharing, the power of distributed knowledge or the quality of Wikipedia. Instead he presentetd big stuff about the Knowlet Technology developed to describe and disclose scientific facts (relations between source and target concepts such as ‘A is related to B’). Working from medline his team distilled millions of facts from the abstracts. Facts are almost all related to each other (because ‘B affects C’ and so on). A Knowlet is a set of related facts around a central concept. Even scientists themselves my be described in terms of knowlets, representing a kind of fingerprint of the scientist’s work. The smart thing is, if I understand Mons well, that the system allows one to find undescribed facts based on collinearity. Another smart thing they did and will do is build all this into wikipages (demo, test version shortly on The ultimate goal is very ambitious but not unrealistic: to describe each and every concept out there (in all languages) in wikipages. Talks are already going on with Jimmy Wales and other hot shots in the information world. For now, these ideas have been developed for biomedical and pharmaceutical research, concentrating on proteins, but there is no resason to restrict it to those fields. Each discipline might have its own Wikiprofessional. They also intend to crawl hundreds of repositories, do author disambiguation in a really smart way and allow scientists to really quickly share main findings of research and be alerted if any other scientist adds new facts to any concept you are interested in. As a result the need for and price of full text journals should go down, Mons expected. We will certainly hear more of this….

 I was asked to shed some light on library catalogue enrichment. My presentation  focussed on the need to make the search experience in library catalogues (as long as they exist) richer. Lorcan Dempsey has said most that has to be said about catalogues and discovery tools in his post Lifting out the catalog discovery experience almost a year ago. I  did a tiny bit of research into the search environment and information types presented in library catalogs. A comparison of some catalogues with Amazon, Google Books,, Picarta and Worldcat showed that there is room for improvement. I counted to what extent catalogues support these six goals: identifying, seducing, evaluating, obtaining full text, citing and discovery. In total I identified 56 bits of information or functionality, of  which Amazon offered the most. No, indeed, you can’t add these up, but hey, I like figures, so I did anyway:

 My suggestions that we need to add searchable tables of contents to books descriptions in our catalouges received some positive nodding. Some Dutch libraries, notibly Delft have already done so. Afterwards there was some discussion about the way forward. Salient detail is the reaction to my questions what would happen if we ceased to add GOO-descriptors to books, now quite common in Dutch libraries and if we were to remove to possibility to use these terms in searches. It remained silent….., some mumbled: ‘probably nothing’……

 NVB-WB, the academic libraries chapter in the Dutch libraries association NVB promised to have all presentations (mostly in Dutch) of this day available on their site, but that might take a few days. However, Barend Mons’ presentation is already available (in English), because he did the same story at the NIH Wikifair and on my site you’ll find my catalogue enrichtment story and the data on which that story is based: 56 information items in 11 library and other catalogues.

05 Apr


Just want to say hi to all who stumble upon this fresh blog. My intention is to add to and comment on discussions on search, retrieval, libraries, academic and scientific information, fact and fiction and the brave new world that lies ahead. I may have a thought once in a while that I’d like to share. Rest assured, I won’t share them all, and won’t bother you on a daily basis, more likely on a weekly basis or so. Happy reading and ….uhm, all comments, great and small are heartily welcomed!


05 Apr


 This blog 

My intention is to add to and comment on discussions on search, retrieval, libraries, academic and scientific information, fact and fiction and the brave new world that lies ahead. I may have a thought once in a while that I’d like to share. Rest assured, I won’t share them all, and won’t bother you on a daily basis, more likely on a weekly basis or so. Happy reading and ….uhm, all comments, great and small are heartily welcomed!

 About me

I, Jeroen Bosman, am a full time subject librarian for geography, planning, environmental and geoscience in the Utrecht University Library. I regularly contribute to the Dutch language journals Informatie Professional and Geografie. When not at work I like to hide behind a camera or hit the road on my bicyle. You can get idea of those goings about at my photography site.

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