Poop is OK!

Written at last week’s Internet Librarian 2015 Conference

A conference’s opening keynote address is kind of like the first day of school. You sit excitedly wondering what the experience is going to bring, anxiously chatting with your neighbor about what sessions you plan to attend. Looking around you size up the crowd: the diehard tweeters in the front, the laid-back cool kids leisurely skimming their conference programs, and the super hip girl in the back row wearing red tights who you hope will be your new best friend. As we settled into our seats in the hotel ballroom, we expected a lot. No pressure, but the opening session lays the foundation for the rest of the conference.

The opening keynote address at this year’s Internet Librarian 2015 Conference did not disappoint. The panel of female entrepreneurs discussed the topic “Exploring Roles & Directions: Creating, Failing, Learning.” Ilana Ben-Ari of Twenty One Toys, Liza Conrad of Hopscotch, and Erin Mulcahy of littleBits discussed their experiences in start-ups and how what they’ve learned can transfer to the library world.

One highlight from the panel is when Lisa Conrad from Hopscotch, an app that teaches kids coding through building games, told the story of a teacher who said there was inappropriate material on the app. She complained that her students were using the poop emoji too much, and she was deleting the app. Worried, the folks at Hopscotch banded together to find a solution to the problem. After some thought, they soon realized there wasn’t a problem. The kids were using the app and learning how to code – that’s the whole goal! They concluded that poop is OK. If the users like poop, then they should have poop!

What can librarians take away from this anecdote? The Hopscotch staff looked at the situation through the lens of the user. They asked the questions, “Who is this helping? Who is this serving? What do they want?” They based their choices on the people who matter most – their users. As librarians, it’s easy to get bogged down by the day-to-day and forget who we serve. Like at Hopscotch, we need to reevaluate the standards people hold us to and remember why we’re here- for our users.

Yes? Or No? Or HOW? Catching a Predator at Birth (Maybe)

Catching a Predator at Birth

I almost called this post: “Create attention for your article; write a layman’s summary,” which was the subject line from the e-mail we are discussing locally in trying to decide if it is a predatory publisher or not. (Short version of what we did for those who don’t have time to read the whole story: Identity, Authority, Credibility, Language, Editing, Timing, Licensing, Accessibility, Openness, Sources, Resources. Basically, defining a chain of trust.) I’ve blogged here before about the idea of layman’s summaries, a.k.a. plain language abstracts. They have a great tagline. It’s a great idea. My first reaction was, “How can we help?” Obviously, I think the idea is awesome, and I’ve thought so for a very long time, many years. I am far from the only person to think so. Just take a quick look at these few selected quotes.

DC Girasek: Would society pay more attention to injuries if the injury control community paid more attention to risk communication science?
“We also need to call attention to the injuries that continue to take lives, despite the fact that solid solutions for them have been published in our scientific journals. We need research on translating study findings into public action. Epidemiology and engineering remain central to the field of injury control. We must look to the social and behavioral sciences, however, if we hope to overcome the political and cognitive barriers that impede our advancement.”

Alan Betts: A Proposal for Communicating Science
“Given that the future of the Earth depends on the public have a clearer understanding of Earth science, it seems to me there is something unethical in our insular behavior as scientists.”

Jason Samenow: Should technical science journals have plain language translation?
“Some scientists might resist the onus of having to write a lay-person friendly version of their articles. However, I agree with Betts, it’s well past time they do so”

Chris Buddle: Science outreach: plain-language summaries for all research papers
“1) Scientists do really interesting things.
2) Scientists have a responsibility to disseminate their results.
3) Scientists do not publish in an accessible format.
This is a really, really big problem.”

Chris Buddle: A guide for writing plain language summaries of research papers
“A plain language summary is different because it focuses more broadly, is without jargon, and aims to provide a clear picture about ‘why’ the research was done in additional to ‘how’ the work was done, and the main findings.”

Lauren M. Kuehne and Julian D. Olden: Opinion: Lay summaries needed to enhance science communication. PNAS 112(12):3585. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1500882112
“But rather than an unrewarding burden, scientists (and journal publishers) should consider widespread adoption of lay summaries—accompanying online publications and made publicly available with traditional abstracts—as a way to increase the visibility, impact, and transparency of scientific research. This is a particularly important undertaking given the changing science media landscape.”

This is seen as SUCH an important idea that multiple grants were provided to create a tool to assist scientists in doing this well!

Center on Knowledge Translation for Disability and Rehabilitation Research (KTDRR): Plain Language Summary Tool ((science OR research) (attention OR “plain language” OR “clear language” OR layman OR journalist) (summary OR abstract)

Imagine my excitement when a colleague (many thanks to Kate MacDougall-Saylor) alerted me to a new online publication specifically for this purpose! How PERFECT for Health Literacy Month! A faculty member had asked her if it was a legitimate enterprise. So we looked at the email she’d received, and at the web site.

Dear Dr. XXX,

We are interested to publish the layman’s summary of your research article: ‘ABC ABC ABC.’ on our website.

The new project ‘Atlas of Science‘ started from 1st October 2015. It is made by scientists for scientists and the aim of the project will be publishing layman’s abstracts of research articles to highlight research to a broader audience.
Scientific articles are often difficult to fathom for journalists, due to the scientific jargon.
Although journalists like to assess the news value quickly, that is by no means simple with most research articles. Writing a short, understandable layman’s summary is a good means to reach this goal.

This makes sense, has a good message, and is accurate about the potential impact so far, but the English doesn’t read as having been written or edited by a native speaker of English, and the formatting is inconsistent. It doesn’t look as if a professional editor did a final review before promoting to the world. Warning Sign #1.

The name of the web site (Atlas of Science) is identical to the highly regarded book from MIT Press and authored by Katy Börner of the Indiana University Cyberinfrastructure for Network Science Center. At first, I thought perhaps they were connected, but quickly realized this was a separate group, simply using the same name. Warning Sign #2.

Most of the rest of the message came directly from the “For Authors” page on the web site (Why, What, Use), except for the instructions.

∙ Send your summary to [email protected], not later than ##/#/2015.

What do we do with your layman’s summary?
∙ We check the text, and in consultation with you we dot the i’s and cross the t’s.
∙ Your text will be available on the Atlas of Science website, www.atlasofscience.org .
We will actively promote this site to the press.

Please, let us know if you are interested and do not hesitate to contact us if you have any question (simply reply to this email).

This was less worrisome, except … the phrase “not later than” (combined with a date of just over a week to respond) seems to be pressuring the faculty member to respond quickly, without thinking it through carefully, and without time to actually create a well-done plain language summary. Warning Sign #3.

Speaking of a well-done plain language summary, do they explain how to do what they say they want? We checked on the web site. Not really. They tell you what they want, but not how to do it, and they don’t point people to any resources to help them understand what a plain language summary is, what this means, or how to do it. They define no standards, set no guidelines, make only the barest and simplest recommendations (such as word count — 600 words with 2 figures), and do not even mention appropriate reading level. Warning Sign #4.

Does the posted content on the site actually appear to match the stated goals of the site? Not remotely. The pieces posted don’t even match the minimal guidelines they stated in their own criteria. I tested a few of the newest posts. The titles alone (“Regulation of mediator’s expression and chemotaxis in mast cells”, “Minute exocrine glands in the compound eyes of water strider”, “Gene therapy not just counseling for your denim obsession”, tell you these are not plain language, but just to be fair and unbiased, I ran them through a Simple Measure of Gobbledygook (SMOG) Tool, which is only one of several tools and resources available for assessing readability.

Regulation of mediator’s expression and chemotaxis in mast cells
The SMOG index: 20.1
Total words: 766
Total number of polysyllabic words: 180
Total number of sentences: 41

Over 150 words more than the defined limit for the abstract (Warning Sign #5), and written for an audience with a reading level matching those with multiple graduate degrees. The SMOG Index, you see, displays the reading level by number of years of education. 12 is a high school diploma, 16 is a college degree, 18 is a masters, and 20 is well into PhD territory. The average reading level for adults in the United States is roughly 8th grade, meaning that a really well done plain language summary would be written to a SMOG level of 8, at most 12. 20 is a long ways from 12.

Minute exocrine glands in the compound eyes of water strider
The SMOG index: 16.2
Total words: 461
Total number of polysyllabic words: 70
Total number of sentences: 35

Gene therapy not just counseling for your denim obsession
The SMOG index: 18.7
Total words: 573
Total number of polysyllabic words: 79
Total number of sentences: 23

Save your pancreas from diabetes! Your beta cell reserve is critical for prevention and treatment of diabetes.”
The SMOG index: 19.6
Total words: 455
Total number of polysyllabic words: 100
Total number of sentences: 25

It’s easy to see that most of the authors take the word count seriously, and that some of them genuinely tried to reduce the reading level and had an idea of where to start with this. None of them came anywhere close to an 8th grade reading level, and none of them were below college graduate reading level. Warning Sign #6. The writing in the abstracts was highly variable, some included grammatical errors, and there was no sign of editorial oversight. Warning Sign #7.

You get the idea of how the checking is being done. I don’t want to walk you through the excruciating details for every piece, but here are a few more criteria, and then ending with a surprise reveal.

“About Us”: Can’t tell who they are, either individuals or institution. Improper grammar & punctuation. No contact information. Contact form has email address hidden. Warning Signs 8, 9, 10.

Content Sources: Most links are to RSS feeds from major science news services, not unique or locally produced content. For the unique content, authorship is unclear (is author of the plain language abstract the same as the author of the original article?), buried deep in the page, no editor mentioned, and no contact information given for the presumed authors. The links for the original articles go back to PUBMED, not to the original publisher, and nont of them give the DOI number for the articles. Warning Signs 11, 12, 13, 14, 15.

Licensing: For a project of this sort to have the impact it is supposed to on journalists and the public, it would need to have a Creative Commons licensing structure, presumably with attribution. Instead it has
copyright, all rights reserved,” but gives no information on how to get permission to use the content. It appears that the intellectual property rights are held by the website, not by the actual authors. This is (in my opinion) terrible. Warning Signs 16, 17, 18.

Accessibility: Problems using the site on my phone. Tested desktop view, and there are a number of fatal errors, missing ALT tags, empty links, duplicated links, etc. Sloppy, sloppy coding. Nobody’s perfect, but MEDLINEplus has zero fatal errors, just for comparison. If this is from a reputable organization, I’d expect better. Warning Signs 19, 20, 21.

Now, the big surprise! While I was digging around online, I found some of the content, almost verbatim, from an authoritative site! Virtually all of the “For Authors” page is from the Technishe Universiteit, Eindhoven (TU/e). Evidently, they have or had a requirement for graduate students to write a plain language summary of their research prior to graduation. Brilliant concept! The submitted content was reviewed, edited, and selected for possible inclusion in their university research magazine, Cursor. They also had a campus website to host the content. The link for this was broken when I checked today, but the Wayback Machine has several examples over the past several years, including just a few months ago.

The big question now is whether this project is taking the Technische Universiteit model and making it bigger for the world, or was the content stolen from TU/e? There is no way to tell by looking. If this is a genuine project from TU/e, there are some changes they could make to improve the project. If the project is not theirs, I would really love to see the National Library of Medicine recreate a project like this, but done properly. They’ve proven they can. And there is a genuine need.

NLM Georgia Biomedical Informatics Course

I recently attended the NLM Georgia Biomedical Informatics Course at the lovely Brasstown Valley Resort in Young Harris, GA. This week-long semiannual course is hosted by the Robert B. Greenblatt, M.D. Library, Georgia Regents University and funded by the National Library of Medicine. If you’ve ever heard library colleagues talk about the Woodshole course, this is the current version of that course. The content changes every session, which is necessary in such a fast moving field.

Attendees were a nice mix of librarians, clinicians, researchers and others involved in medical information technology. Instructors who are in the forefront of their field came from around the country to teach in this prestigious course. I found it to be a great overview of current important topics in informatics, and I learned so much about the breadth of this essential field from both the instructors and the other attendees. We also did some networking and shooting pool at the local watering hole, Brassies.

Read more to see what was covered (and some cool pictures from a field trip we took)

Continue reading NLM Georgia Biomedical Informatics Course

Evidence Based Practice Workshop: Two (Very Different) Perspectives

Summer is a busy time for medical librarians but it can also be a time to hone skills that have been lying dormant. This summer, as I continued to transition into a new position I realized that my evidence based practice (EBP) skills were a little rusty. What’s more, I realized that clinicians wanted more from librarians in the area of qualitative analysis than I had training in.

My library supported my attendance in the Supporting Clinical Care: An Institute in Evidence-Based Practice for Medical Librarians workshop held at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus Library in Aurora, Colorado. The intensive three day course is led by faculty including Pamela Bagley, Jeff Mason, Angela Myatt, Connie Schardt, Lisa Traditi and many others. Sponsored by BMJ Best Practice and EBSCO Health the intensive workshop provides both small and large group learning on topics essential to EBP.

Overall course content is designed to be introductory which makes this workshop a good opportunity to get started in EBP or brush up on skills. The content for the course was impressive, yes homework was involved. The workshop is designed to be challenging as well as informative and fun, there is even a bit of competition in the form of an EBP Jeopardy challenge.

One of the major topic areas that I had little training in what searching for and evaluation qualitative research. The agenda for this workshop included a large group introduction to qualitative research and small group work. The small group session on qualitative research was informative as it included a review of qualitative search techniques, modified question framing tools, and practice in assessing qualitative studies. The skilled faculty led both large and small group in informative discussions about all the topics covered.

During this summer’s session I was lucky enough to meet librarian and co-author Tobin Magle. An unexpected aspect of this workshop is the community that is created so quickly. From small group to large group, participants share their expertise and skills. Networking and teamwork are encouraged throughout the workshop. It was from discussions in small group was as well as some of the team based activities that I feel I learned the most. Not only about EBP but also about ways to apply what I have learned into other aspects of librarianship.

If you are unable to make the 2016 workshop but are still interested in getting training in EBP or qualitative research, workshop instructor Connie Schardt presented two excellent MLA webinars this summer that cover the topics and provide useful information for librarians and clinicians alike.


Thanks, Emily, for summarizing your experience so well! I’ve only been in health science librarianship for about a year now so I have a lot to learn. Though my primary duties at the library involve working with basic scientists, the EBP workshop was essential to my professional development at the Health Science Library because it allows me to integrate better with the rest of the staff and put our work in a broader context.

My background is in basic science research. One difference between basic and clinical research that has always struck me is the well-defined structure of clinical research. Many of the concepts are the same (5 section paper format, controls, statistics, etc.), but the way clinical research can be divided into distinct study types is very different. I enjoyed learning about study design and hope to use these skills in my work at the library.

I had already been teaching part of a research methods class (DSAD 5502) in the School of Dental Medicine curriculum using my previous research knowledge, but going to the EBP workshop gave me a framework to hang these similarities on and present the material in a way that is more engaging to future dental professionals. For example, instead of taking the time to explain how to calculate a Chi Squared test, I emphasized how to interpret the result to improve patient care. It has also helped me to work on PICO questions during literature search consultations with College of Nursing students.

I am very grateful that the Health Sciences Library supported my participation in the workshop. This type of cross training helps me feel more engaged with our organization’s mission.

– Tobin

Join an MLA Committee….NOW!

These last few weeks I have been traveling to the chapter meetings (and participating in the virtual chapter meeting) and during my MLA Update I remind people that engagement within MLA is important to members building their own value within the organization. One of the best ways to be engaged is to join an MLA Committee.

Time is running out, you must submit an application to join a committee by October 31, 2015.

Over the years I’ve written several posts about joining an MLA Committee,  here is a “Behind the Scenes” post which gives a detailed account of the process.

Primary things to remember when joining a committee:

  1. The process is kind of similar to the Match for medical students.  The MLA President elect officially assigns members to committees. However, we go by the requests and input from the committee chairs and the member application requests.
  2. When applying for a committee pleas list your interests or experience for the committee you wish to join.  This helps the committee chairs who are looking for people and it helps the President elect.
  3. Apply for more than one committee. Some committees are very popular and there may be several people for 2 spots. Applying for more than one committee increases your chances of being on a committee you want.
  4. Seriously consider selecting “Any Committee”. This is very helpful to chairs and the President Elect. This also increases your chances of being on a committee.

We try very hard to make sure everyone is assigned to a committee but if you don’t fill everything out or list only one committee it makes things very difficult.

Last year when I assigned committee members I worked with a giant spread sheet of member requests, a giant spread sheet of chair requests, and a spreadsheet listing every committee applicant so I could check off that they got assigned to at least one committee. Thankfully I have 2 computer monitors so I could keep track of it all.

So please apply to join a committee it is a great way to get involved.


First ever all-virtual conference

I love conferences: meeting other librarians, learning about new products and services, and getting great ideas from others’ innovative projects. However, it is always hard to get away to go to conferences. Both the time and funds can be hard to find. This is why I was so excited for the first-ever virtual conference by the Midcontinental Chapter of the Medical Library Association (MCMLA). This was also the first ever all-virtual meeting of any MLA chapter in the history of the organization. I did not have to find money in my budget or time in my schedule, but still was able to attend many informative conference sessions. And, I got to attend the conference while wrapped in my fleece blanket.

I know the virtual conference has been years in the making from many dedicated librarians, but they made it look easy. Also, Elsevier, McGraw-Hill, Wolters Kluwer, and Rittenhouse agreed to participate in this experiment and gave presentations about their new products. Overall, the conference had great presenters, engaged participants, and moved smoothly past the few, small technical glitches that occurred.

Check out #MCMLA2015 to see the Twitter discussions during the conference and go to the MCMLA conference page for more details about the meeting and the poster that was presented at MLA 2015 about the virtual conference. I hope this is only the beginning of associations experimenting with virtual conferences and exploring alternative ways of sharing ideas and research with each other.

Going down the one person library rabbit hole

My only other co-worker is transferring to another hospital at the end of the month so I will soon becoming a truly one person library, hopefully only temporary but it could be permanent. In any case, at least for a few months I’ll be on my own.

Now I need to figure out how to organize my workday to cover two set of job duties. I have so many questions. Do I sit at the reference desk every day, or do I split my day between the reference desk and my office? I’m not full time. Do I work 4 8 hours days and one 4 hour day, or do I spread my hours evenly over 5 days?

Then comes the fun stuff – prioritizing my work. Figuring out how to balance ILLs, searches, technical issues, renewals and other library administrative tasks. Oh, and I forgot to mention the library is moving. Every task is a priority but some have more visible results than others.

Hopefully this will be a temporary situation but on the off chance it isn’t I’ll be documenting my journeys down this rabbit hole. Any comments or thoughts are more than welcome!

Exporting multiple Google Scholar citations to reference managers like Endnote

Google Scholar (GS) is a very useful addition to the searchers arsenal; following a “cited by” trail nicely complements results retrieved by keyword/subject heading searches in databases such as Embase and Medline.

One area where GS is less useful is exporting records to reference management software. Using the settings,  you can set up an export to BibTex, Endnote, RefMan and RefWorks. However, there are two limitation:

  1. You can only export a single record at a time
  2. You don’t get the abstract included

GS, after a little fiddling about, does allow you to save citations to a list (My library) but citations in this list can still only be exported one at a time so this produces no benefit at all. Then I read an interesting pager by Bramer and de Jonge – Improving efficiency and confidence in systematic literature searching* – which mentioned that Harzing’s Publish or Perish can be used to download 1000 references from GS into reference managers such as Endnote.

Could this speed up my click by click populating of Endnote libraries with GS citations (and maybe throw abstracts in as well for good measure)?

Publish or Perish, ” designed to help individual academics to present their case for research impact to its best advantage”, is a small bibliometrics program (approx 1 MB) that can be installed without admin privileges.  You can indeed export multiple GS (and Microsoft Academic Search) results but – alas, alack, alay – it is not the solution to problems 1 and 2 above. Abstracts – not totally surprising as GS doesn’t provide them – aren’t included.  And while you can search the Publish or Perish program in various ways (author, journal, all words etc), it just doesn’t match the way you search GS which is generally a mixture of keyword and cited by searching so you cannot easily replicate a set of results.

The subject line of this post implied a solution to the multiple GS export problem. Actually it is more a request to see if anyone else has found a fix – sorry about leading you on like that. But this issue is one of those not-so-large-but-there-must-be-a-better-way ones so I’m hoping someone can suggest a workaround.

The easiest solution would be for Google to make the My library list bulk exportable. While holding my breath and waiting for that, I wonder if anyone out there has found a clever way around this problem? Perhaps a search from Endnote GS citations to an external database such as PubMed to grab the abstracts in some fiendishly clever way?


* The systematic searching paper mentioned about can be found in PDF format and Word format, with the latter incorporating a couple of corrections as detailed at the end of this post. The paper itself is interesting for giving all sort of search tips as well as providing a framework (including online macros) for translating search queries from one database platform to another (Embase into Ovid Medline etc). It also has some nifty GS search tips and a table giving a useful search syntax summary across various platforms; the PDF version is good for printing this out. Indeed it is a paper that you need to print out and read at your leisure as not really one you can just scan through online so well.

***Note from Krafty*** 10/28/15
This post seems to generate a lot of spam mail in the comments despite anti spam measures.  As a result I have disabled comments from this post. If you want to comment you must email krafty(atsign)kraftylibrarian(dot)com and if the comment is related to the post I will post it manually in the comments.  Sorry for the inconvenience. Thank you.

Brief Intro: Emily Hurst

Emily HurstHello all! Another guest librarian blogger, happy to be joining in to post while Michelle is engaged with MLA Presidential duties. Update: Apparently my scheduled post of this did not go out as expected over an month ago.

My name is Emily Hurst and just as Irene, I too work at the Virginia Commonwealth University Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health Sciences. I currently serve as the Head of Research and Education. While I only joined VCU Libraries in December I have been a medical librarian for several years. I previously worked with the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, South Central Region.

I am currently active in both the Mid-Atlantic Chapter and South Central Chapters of MLA. This summer turned out to be a busy one. I’ve completed two web migration projects for MLA, worked on recruiting for a new librarian, and learned a whole heck of a lot along the way!

My interests are varied, while I am focused on management and leadership topics I have an extensive history with teaching, training, and technology.

For more about me visit me online or follow me on Twitter.