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An Infectious Dialogue

16 Sep

Science Cafe Woo, September 15, 2014

Nu Cafe, Worcester, MA

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Labor Today, Rest on Monday!

29 Aug

Happy Labor Day, everyone! Follow the most excellent advice found in this NY Times Op-Ed piece by Clive Thompson and take some time for yourself! 

Labor-Day

Repeat After Me

22 Aug

Reproduction

Reproducibility is the ability of an entire experiment or study to be reproduced, either by the researcher or by someone else working independently. It is one of the main principles of the scientific method and relies on ceteris paribus. Wikipedia

I was going to start this post with a similar statement in my own words, but couldn’t resist the chance to quote Latin. It always makes you sound so smart. But regardless of whether these are a Wikipedia author’s words or my own, the point is the same – one of the foundations of good science is the ability to reproduce the results.

My work for the neuroimaging project involves developing a process for researchers in this field to cite their data in such a way that makes their work more easily reproducible. The current practice of citing data sets alone doesn’t always make reproducibility possible. A researcher might take different images from a number of different data sets to create an entirely new data set, in which case citing the previous sets in whole doesn’t tell exactly which images are being used. Thus, this gap can make the final research harder to replicate, as well as more difficult to review. We think that we may have a way to help fix this problem and that’s what I’ve been working on for the past few months.

At the same time, I’ve been working on a systematic review with the members of the mammography study team. This work has me locating and reading and discussing a whole slew of articles about the use of telephone call reminders to increase the rate of women receiving a mammogram within current clinical guidelines. It also has me wondering about the nature of clinical research and the concept of reproducible science, for in all of my work, I’ve yet to come across any two studies that are exactly alike. In other words, it doesn’t seem to be common practice for anyone to repeat anyone else’s study. And I can’t help but wonder why this is so.

I imagine it has something to do with funding. Will a funding agency award money to a proposal that seeks to repeat something; something unoriginal? Surely they are more apt to look to fund new ideas.

Maybe it has to do with scientific publishing. Like funding agencies, publishers probably much prefer to publish new ideas and new findings. Who wants to read an article that says the same thing as one they read last year?

Of course, it may also be that researchers look to improve on previous studies, rather than simply repeat them. This is what I see in all of the papers I’ve found for this particular systematic review. The methods are tweaked from study to study; the populations differ just a bit, the length of time varies, etc. It makes sense. The goal of this body of research is to determine what intervention works the best and in changing things slightly, you might just find the answer. What has me baffled about this process, though, is that as we continue to tweak this aspect or that aspect of a study’s methodology, when and/or how do we ever discover what aspect actually works and then put it into practice? 

Working on this particular review, I’ve collected easily 50+ relevant articles, yet as we pull them together – consolidate them to discover any conclusions – the task seems, at times, impossible. Too often, despite the relevancy of the articles to the question asked, what you really end up comparing is apples to oranges. How does this get to the heart of scientific discovery? How does it influence or generate “best practice”? I can’t help but wonder.

Yesterday, during my library’s monthly journal club, we discussed an article that had been recommended reading to me by one of the principal investigators on the mammography study. How to Read a Systematic Review and Meta-analysis and Apply the Results to Patient Care, is the latest User’s Guide on the subject from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). It prompted a lively session about everything from how research is done, to how medical students are taught to read the literature, to how the media portrays medical news. I recommend it.

Of course, there are many explanations to my question and many factors at play. My wondering and our journal club discussion doesn’t afford any concrete solution and/or answer, still I feel it’s a worthwhile topic for medical librarians to think about. If you have any thoughts, please keep the discussion going in the comments section below.

This, That, and a Bit of The Other Thing

8 Aug

I like to make the cards that I give to people. Yes, I too often give in and buy the prefabricated ones, but even then, I try very hard to pick ones out that are blank inside, not substituting anyone else’s words for my own. I like the handmade touch. I have a small box with several cards that I made for my mom when I was a child. They are special. My mom treasured them enough to keep for herself and now, I keep them myself. Crayon-scribbled, “You are the best mom” accompanied by a cut-out, construction paper flower is worth saving.

 

A couple of cards that I made for my mom.

A couple of cards that I made for my mom.

Besides the sentimentality of handmade items, they also share the message that the sender took a bit more time to make something just for you. I’m not knocking the time one can spend searching the shelves at the Hallmark store for just the right message, but you must admit that taking the time to make that right message says just a little something more. 

I thought about making cards earlier this week when I followed along with a listserv discussion about the practice of sending weekly articles, messages, and updates to patrons. A number of participants shared some very helpful resources – aggregators, if you will – for delivering timely pieces. It’s both easy and resourceful to subscribe to them. They scour the internet for stories about the latest medical procedure, disease outbreak, trend in healthcare, etc., and send them right to your email inbox for quick reading. Some even annotate them for you, so that you don’t have to be bogged down reading more than seven paragraphs. The suggestion offered in the discussion was to share these feeds with administrators or doctors or researchers or whoever your target audience is. It’s a great idea, but as I thought about it, the practice reminded me of buying a greeting card instead of making one yourself.

Libraries and librarians have given up a great deal of their identity (their brand) over the past years. The full-text of articles are often accessed through third-party vendors or the websites of journals, despite the fact that it’s one’s library that’s often providing the resource. We buy catalogs developed by other companies, rather than developing homegrown management systems. We embed RSS feeds from other sources into our own websites.

And each and every one of these practices saves both time and money, but at what cost?

I got to wondering how much time it would really take to subscribe to a relevant aggegator or journal table of contents, or to set up a few alerts from custom-saved searches, or to put together several Twitter lists that follow sources specific to a group or department I serve. Then I could use these tools to create my own, customized delivery of an article or an interesting piece of news to the same. Think of the return on the investment I’d get by sending a personal note directly to someone with the resource attached, as compared to the same coming from an automated – and branded by someone else – source. Now, I can already hear some naysayers saying, “I don’t have time to keep up with that.” Maybe not, but I think it might be worth a try.

A full shelf of writing and reading, plus Finz. And an autographed baseball. And a holiday ornament. Librarians don't need to be organized at home.

A full shelf of writing and reading, plus Finz. And an autographed baseball. And a holiday ornament. Librarians don’t need to be organized at home.

Related, another thing that I often hear people say is that we don’t have time to read ____ (insert whatever it is that you don’t have time to read – blog posts, journal articles, interesting pieces from the news). Similarly, many say that we don’t have time to write _____ (insert whatever it is that you don’t have time to write – blog posts, journal articles, etc.). This a dilemma. To paraphrase Stephen King (the writer), if you want to be in the information business, you need to do two things above all others; read a lot of information and write a lot of information. How else can you stay on top of it? How else can you provide good information resources to those you serve? How do we call ourselves information professionals if we ignore the very thing that we’re supposedly experts in? We work in a fast-paced and rapidly changing profession. All the more reason to do those two things above all others. Read and write.

I write a post for this blog each week. Thanks to the kind words of many colleagues, not to mention usage statistics, I know that people read it. But I also read the writings of colleagues and other people who provide so much insight, interest, and entertainment to my work, that I can’t imagine how lousy I’d be at my job without them. With this stated, I’m sharing several really good things that crossed my radar over the past week. If you can find a moment or two to read them, you may find it worth your while:

  • Data Dictionaries, a blog post by Kristin Briney. If you’re charged with the task of managing data, at any level, Kristin’s blog is worth following and this particular piece is a great one to bookmark, because it’s really hard to find good posts and good examples on the topic.  
  • Your Two Kinds of Memory: Electronic and Organic, by Annie Murphy Paul. Medical librarians are forever grousing about a certain resource that’s ever-so-popular with doctors and medical students alike. Annie’s post offers an entirely different reason for concern.
  •  There’s a new series debuting on Cinemax soon about the early days of surgery in the United States. Period medical drama. “The Knick” is the creation of Steven Soderbergh and stars Clive Owen, so it surely has potential to be good. After ‘The Knick': 7 Fascinating Books on the History of Medicine offers critique and … well, suggestions for further reading. (From the blog for the site, Word & Film.)
  • The Trouble with Medicine’s Metaphors is an article by Dhruv Khullar for the Atlantic. Khullar is currently doing a residency at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Maybe it’s because I majored in philosophy, maybe because I love linguistics, maybe because I was in the hospital last week… for many reasons, I found this a great read.

Finally, I always read Amy Dickinson’s advice column. I need all of the everyday, practical advice that I can get. And my friend, Suzy Becker, wrote a most wonderful blog post to go along with the release of her latest book from Random House Kids this week. Author-Daughter Book Club just about made me cry in my cubicle. In a good way. Moms of sons and daughters, both, will enjoy it. I give shout outs to these two writers who, many days, make my day. 

Summertime, and the Readin’ is Easy

30 Jun

I have a half-dozen more substantive and/or reflective, work-related blog posts partially written in my drafts box, but it’s summertime and the warm weather, the slower pace, the better parking at work… well it just seems I can’t finish any one of those. So, as I looked at the pile of books on my coffee table this morning, I sent myself a note to make this week’s post another reading list – my summer reading. Here are some things I’m enjoying. Feel free to add yours in the comments section.

How Music Work_Byrne

I was in high school in the 1970s and college in the 1980s, the perfect timing to become a HUGE fan of The Talking Heads. While they stopped making music together many years ago now <sniff>, I’ve remained a fan of each of the members as they’ve struck out on all sorts of other artistic endeavors. Former lead singer, David Byrne, has kept me well-entertained with music and writing since those band days. I picked up a copy of his book, How Music Works, back in the spring and absorbed myself in the first third of it, but then put it down for awhile – not because it isn’t a good book at all, but because it’s so interesting, well-written, and thought-provoking that I needed some time to mull over all that I’d read. Then, as things go in my reading life, I found something else and then something else and then… well, it’s on the top of the pile for completion this summer.

Creativity_Pettite

A few weeks ago, my family took a day trip to explore Concord, MA. We hiked the trails of Minuteman Park and enjoyed the quaint shops of the small, New England downtown. One of these shops happened to be The Concord Bookshop, a terrific independent bookstore. As we browsed the shelves, we noticed that the staff were setting up for an evening event. When we inquired who was speaking, we couldn’t believe the answer! Philippe Petit – THE Philippe Petit of “Man on Wire” fame – was in town. What luck! Both Lynn and I are fans of the documentary about his 1974 high-wire walk between the twin towers of  New York World Trade Center. Circus act, daredevil, pickpocket, magician, artist… we were thrilled to get the chance to see and hear him talk about his new book, Creativity, the Perfect Crime. Of course, I picked up an autographed copy. Part instruction book, part autobiography; this is a great book to help get your creative juices flowing. What could be a better summer activity?

W is for Wasted_Grafton     Ghosts of Belfest_Neville

No summer reading list of mine is complete without a mystery! This summer, I have a couple in my pile. I have no idea what I’m going to do when Sue Grafton reaches “Z” and Kinsey Milhone rides off into the sunset of literary characters, but for now, I’ve still got 4 titles to look forward to, including W is for Wasted that came out this past winter. I’ve been waiting for the lazy months of summer to catch up on my favorite detective. Now’s the time.

Going from a very familiar author to the debut work of Stuart Neville, the very well-received, The Ghosts of Belfast. Guilt, redemption, political drama… I’m ready for it.

Kate_Becker

 

My friend, Suzy Becker, has a new book out for younger readers, Kate the Great. I am young at heart and Suzy is my hero, so I’ll be reading Kate. Best part… it’s the first in a series! I won’t have to say goodbye to Kate as soon as I meet her. Hey! Maybe I can convince Suzy to turn Kate into a detective so that she can fill the Kinsey Milhone hole when it inevitably appears.

HSL_Wood

And okay, okay… I do have a couple of work-related titles on my list.

Hot off the presses, this updated, revamped, wholly new edition of Health Sciences Librarianship will become required reading for those studying to become medical librarians and/or work in the information world of the health sciences. I have several friends and/or colleagues who authored chapters in this book, so that’s reason alone to read it. If you’re looking for the staff copy, I have it.

Rosalind_Franklin

 

Finally, the Friends of the Worcester Public Library always have a cart of freebies at the entrance to the WPL. I’m forever finding real gems there, the latest being, Rosalind Frankin & DNA by Anne Sayre. Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

Rosalind Franklin’s research was central to the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA. She never received the credit she was due during her lifetime. In this classic work Anne Sayre, a journalist and close friend of Franklin, puts the record straight. 

I look forward to learning the whole story.

Enjoy your summer, everyone.

I sure hope you’ve got a good book!

 

Postcards from Chicago

2 Jun

I was on vacation last week and the week before spent most of the days in Chicago, attending the annual meeting of the Medical Library Association. As always, it was a meeting filled with great ideas, innovations, inspiration, and an awful lot of fun with friends and colleagues that I don’t get to see nearly enough. I wrote about one of the plenary sessions, “Reshaping Our Professional Identity,” over on the blog of the North Atlantic Health Sciences Libraries, Inc. Check it out there!

MLA_Plenary4

As for my vacation, let’s just say I enjoyed some early dog days of summer.

Hanging out with Eliza

 

Postcards (aka Sketchnotes) from Texas

14 Apr

As I reported in my last post, I was off to the Texas Library Association’s annual conference in San Antonio last week. In a nutshell, it was a terrific meeting. As I usually spend my meeting and conference times with other medical, science, and/or academic librarians, the chance to mix and mingle with LOTS of kinds of librarians was great. I talked to many community college librarians, several school librarians, and even sat next to the retired librarian of The Alamo while waiting to get Henry Winkler’s autograph. I also visited lots of children’s book publishers and attended a few author talks and poetry readings. I gave my work time to my sessions, but outside of that, sought out some different fun.

I plan to post the slides and a synopsis of my talk on emerging roles in eScience in a later post. This morning, I wanted to share my notes from a talk given by Lee Rainie, the Director of the Pew Research Center’s* Internet & American Life Project, entitled, “The Future of Libraries.” This was the first talk that I attended at the conference and as it turned out, it set the stage really well for my own talk, as well as others that I took in.

The challenge facing libraries and librarians, Rainie  stated, was the need to grapple with several big questions regarding the future of:

  • Knowledge
  • Pathways to knowledge
  • Public technology and community anchor institutions
  • Learning spaces
  • Attention (and its structural holes)
  • Franchise

By “the future of franchise,” Rainie meant that we really need to discover and articulate the characteristic(s) of libraries and librarians that make them unique from all of the other entities in an information-heavy world. What makes us special? The answer(s) differ according to context, of course, but the need to know what the answer is and to be able to clearly communicate it to stakeholders is critical to our success.

If you know the work of the Pew Research Center, you know that they’re all about performing surveys to give a picture of our society and where we stand on politics, the media, religion, healthcare, and other social trends. Thus, after stating the “big questions,” Rainie offered the results of numerous polls to help us see how and where libraries and librarians stand today, and how this knowledge can help us shape our future. And as he stated, there are some real points in our favor, not the least of which is that by and large, people still love libraries and they still love librarians. When most every other institution has lost the confidence of the American people, libraries and librarians have not. Americans still believe that libraries are important to their communities (91%). They believe that they’re important for promoting literacy, providing access to technology, and for offering quiet and safe places (for adults and children). Rainie called these our pillars for success and based on them, proposed several areas where our future may lie:

  1. Knowledge creation, interface, and dissemination
  2. Information searching, aggregating, and literacy
  3. Information access (technology, security, property issues) 
  4. Learning space (without forgetting the role we play in providing quiet and safety)

One really interesting point made, to me, was the question of the role(s) libraries and librarians might play in attention allocation. What can we do to fill the gaps that exist in a world where people constantly multitask (called “continuous partial attention” by Linda Stone) and “snack” on information? How can we prepare resources and develop services that work effectively and efficiently in such an environment? Good questions to think about!

Finally, one of my favorite quotes from the talk was, “Be a smart node in people’s networks.” When people have questions or concerns today, situations involving a need for information, they turn to other people. People turn to their networks much more than they turn to institutions. Be a node in the networks. I loved this description and could see clearly how it fit with so much of what I’ve discovered working on teams, being embedded in projects, and getting out of the library so that I know more and more people. As I said in my own talk about emerging roles in eScience, data is but one half of the eScience picture. The other involves networks. Hearing Rainie’s quote, I felt pretty good about the track that I’m on for my future as a librarian.

TXLA_Future of Libraries_Page_1  TXLA_Future of Libraries_Page_2    TXLA_Future of Libraries_Page_3  TXLA_Future of Libraries_Page_4

Sketchnotes from Lee Rainie’s talk, “The Future of Libraries”, #TXLA14

*Data sets from the Pew Research Center are available for download. Visit their website for more details.

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