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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Barnes & Noble's new full-color Nook

I've been covering ebook readers (or ereaders) since the 1980s. I'm not convinced that ereaders are the future of ebooks, but reading materials are certainly moving to digital formats.

Here at the University of Minnesota, it was recently announced that our College of Education and Human Development began to provide iPads to all freshmen in the largest research-based iPad pilot project in the U.S. which began this Fall.

The Nook, the most recent ereader to be offered, provides some key improvements to the format and should be an interesting consumer electronics product this holiday season. The new model, boasting full-color screen was announced at a press conference in NYC. New features include web surfing - which would seem to bring this new model more into line with tablet computers. More information is @ Barnes & Noble website.

As the holiday season begins to heat up, we should be seeing greater price ranging of the devices - from the black/white ereading only models nearing $100 to more fully-loaded models at higher price ranges and offering features that bring them into the tablet category.

In the past two years, ebook readers have become:

• smaller, sleeker, lighter weight - while maintaining their 5 or 6 inch screens
• with improved screen contrast and better control of fonts to meet individual user needs
• faster navigation, screen refreshes, page turning and other functioning
• pricing continues to decline despite product enhancements
• enhanced abilities to read a wider range of information formats and content sources
• more flexible options beyond the 'book', such as Internet browsers, abilities to mount apps or use devices for movies or audio
• Linux has become the most popular operating system supporting dedicated ereaders today, with Microsoft Windows coming in a far second
• EPUB, PDF, HTML and TXT are most common - allowing for adding documents, downloading free ebooks and other applications
• integrating some type of dictionary function.
• some directory scheme for organizing burgeoning ebook collections
• 1GB storage is common with some allowing for as much as 4GB of storage
• touchscreen systems and/or some type of keyboard for input
• web browsing is developing as a standard feature

More publishers are entering the arena - and magazine/newspapers are developing pricing schemes - so that content will be less of an issue.

I've written about ebooks and ebook readers for many years - and have one scheduled to assess the market after the coming holiday buying season as well. Here are some of my published articles on ebooks - and I'd be interested in hearing your opinions and ideas on the products as well!

"Kindle DX: Amazon's Latest Ebook Reader," Information Today 26(9): 26-7, October, 2009.
Short Kindle Review.pdf

"The Ebook Reader Is Not the Future of Ebooks," SEARCHER 16(8): 26-40, September 2008.
Ebook Readers Not Future of Ebooks.final article.pdf

Dissertations & Research in an Era of Change

Every year as new grad students come back for further coursework they comment on how much research and information have changed in recent years.

These documents are fascinating reads (though not intended as light reading) as they show the development of a researcher and his/her research through the process from idea evaluation through contemplation of impact and potential next steps. They also include wonderful, comprehensive literature reviews of value to anyone taking on a research project.

Just as everything else is going digital, so are dissertations. In the past one could order interlibrary loans of print or microform editions of published/accepted dissertations from the granting institution. Virginia Tech's Ed Fox (a good friend from my years at CD-ROM Professional where he served on the editorial board for me) has led a major international effort to bring dissertations into Open Access, making them available - in some cases even with datasets and other files attached - freely over the web. The Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations database currently gives access to over 1.5 million dissertations (most in pdf format) from across the globe.

So, how does this change access? This project, for me, began with a query from a faculty member. Even I was surprised at how much access to these documents has changed. Want to know more? Check out this article I wrote :

"Dissertations and Research in an Era of Change," SEARCHER 18(2): 22-35, March 2010. Final Paper.pdf

The University of Minnesota Libraries offer special, free workshops on doing research using dissertations and other tools to help users answer the question: "How Do I Know That I've Found Everything?" If you're on campus, you may want to sign up for this, or other workshops, to help you refine your research methods and improve your results!

Finding Funding in Hard Economic Times

Times are tough for everyone today. A recent article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy (October 17, 2010) noted that "donations to the nation's biggest charities dropped 11 percent last year, a decline that was the worst in the two decades that they have been calculating their Philanthropy 400 rankings." Here at the University of Minnesota Libraries, we offer individual consultation and workshops to help people find sources of funding for their research, to help grad students pay tuition or travel costs and other needs. Additionally, in my community work, I've helped local and regional organizations as they look for funding support.

I've been surprised at how little is written in the library/information professional press on strategies and resources in this area and pulled together information into two articles that were published a year ago. I'm posting them here in case they give others insight, ideas or strategies - in academe or communities - for finding support for your work!

For those at the University of Minnesota, check out our listings of workshops often for free workshops on how to search core funding databases through the year.

Here are the articles - feel free to share your own ideas and strategies!

"Grantsmanship: Information Resources to Help Researchers Get Funding," SEARCHER 17(7): 34-45, July 2009.

"21st Century Fundraising: Everything You Need May Be Free on the Web," SEARCHER 17(8): 24-31, September 2009.

ChaCha - The Future of Reference?

Here at the University of Minnesota Libraries, we offer 24/7 reference assistance to our users through a collaboration with other libraries (since few libraries are actually open 24/7).

However, as the action moves from phones and email to texting, from computers to PDAs, one has to ask what the future of reference would seem to be.

A few years ago I was intrigued by the rise of a new for-profit service called ChaCha. The company has been able to create a compelling product that incorporates information (not always the highest quality) along with social networking aspects and provide on-demand service to millions. The resulting pool of answers and marketing information on their prime youth demographic is bringing in piles of money from advertisers and more and more satisfied users.

I wanted to know more - and found that no one (especially no one in information science or libraries) had really studied the company and its products/strategy. I was able to intrigue Barbara Quint as well (editor of SEARCHER magazine). The resulting article continues to tweak my imagination - and perhaps yours as well.

Consultant Peggy Albright, interviewed for the article, noted that: "It is well understood that in coming years, more people will access the Internet via their mobile devices than from their PCs. This is very exciting for search and it will introduce new search functions and opportunities that we can only now imagine....We are only at the beginning of this evolution in search."

See for yourselves!

"ChaCha: The Future of Reference in the Mobile Market?" SEARCHER 18(3): 32-43, April 2010.
ChaCha article.pdf

"Digital Natives" A "Moral Panic" for Educators?

A few years ago at a conference, a speaker extolled the virtues of the younger generations - digital natives - and the need for education and educators to change. By itself, this is obvious. Kids no longer do long-form reading or write/read cursive. Their attention spans and educational attainment (at least in the US) has been described as in crisis stages.

However, the speaker cited theorists such as Marc Prensky, who assert that these natives speak such a different 'language,' and that "digital immigrant" teachers/managers/etc., are nothing more than "a population of heavily accented, unintelligible foreigners." The presentation went on to talk about how kids brains are even wired differently - questioning the value of education and related professions.

I decided that I needed to learn much more about this. The resulting article, "Digital Natives & Immigrants: What Brain Research Tells Us," is the result of over a year's reading and interviews with some of the leading researchers in brain science. In terms of learning style and product marketing, the arguments make a lot of sense - most of the rest appears to be nonsense.

Are there brains really different, better? I like this assessment from Apostolos Georgopoulos, University of Minnesota Regents Professor and director of the University's Center for Cognitive Sciences from the article: "There is absolutely no scientific basis for claiming that young people's brains have changed in recent times or that there is such a major difference between the brain at different ages. There isn't a shred of scientific evidence to back up these claims. This is totally unfounded. All of this is really a form of "just so" stories. People say something that they feel speaks to their beliefs and others listen and believe it too, but it has no basis in fact. Brains change but not in the way implied by those statements."

See for yourself!

I'd love to hear your comments!

"Digital Natives & Immigrants: What Brain Research Tells Us," ONLINE 33(6):14-1, November/December 2009.
Final Article.Digital Natives.pdf

Thomson Reuters' Announces Book Citation Index

I was honored when Information Today's NewsBreaks editor (and good friend) Paula Hane asked me to do a preliminary look at the newly announced Book Citation Index. I was able to interview Jim Testa, Thomson Reuters Vice President responsible for content for all of their citation indexes. The resulting article was the first published commentary that Jim or Thomson Reuters made about this new project. We are bound to be hearing more about this in coming months.

The University Libraries regularly offer free workshops for our students, staff and faculty on using citation databases and doing citation research. If you are a part of our community, please consider attending one of these before starting a citation project.

This isn't my first foray into citation research. Here are just a few other recent articles that might be of interest to other hard-core citation searchers:

Citation Research Ready for Prime Time.SEARCHER.2010.pdfSEARCHER 18(6): 20-31, 51, July/August 2010.

"Research Evaluation & citation analysis.pdf," The Electronic Library 27(3): 361-375, 2009.

"Web-Based Tools for Citation Data Management ," SEARCHER 16(5): 18-21, 50-4, May 2008.
Web-based citation tools.pdf

"Thomson Scientific and the Citation Indexes: An Interview With Keith MacGregor and James Testa," SEARCHER 15(10): 8, 10, 12-17, November/December 2007.
2007Testa-MacGregor Interview.pdfCitation Research Ready for Prime Time.SEARCHER.2010.pdf