Department Blog

H/SS & Gov Info Services

Royal Society Historic science papers go online

November 29th, 2009 by David Michalski

BBC: The Royal Society marks the start of its 350th year by putting 60 of its most memorable research papers online.
Historic science papers go online

“One of the world’s oldest scientific institutions is marking the start of its 350th year by putting 60 of its most memorable research papers online. The Royal Society, founded in London in 1660, is making public manuscripts by figures like Sir Isaac Newton. Benjamin Franklin’s account of his infamous kite-flying experiment is also available on the Trailblazing website. Society president Lord Rees said the papers documented some of the most “thrilling moments” in science history. The Royal Society grew out of the so-called “Invisible College” of thinkers who began meeting in the mid-1640s to discuss science and philosophy. Its official foundation date is 28 November 1660 and thereafter it met weekly to debate and witness experiments. “

The Obsolescence of the Academic Journal

November 17th, 2009 by Adam Siegel

From “”Lament for a Lost Running Order? Obsolescence and Academic Journals,” (published online in M/C Journal), by John Hartley, editor of the Australian International Journal of Cultural Studies:

“In that boasting paragraph of mine […], about what wonderful authors we’ve published, lies one of the seeds of obsolescence. For now that it is available online, ‘users’ (no longer ‘readers’!) can search for what they want and ignore the journal as such altogether. This is presumably how most active researchers experience any journal – they are looking for articles (or less: quotations; data; references) relevant to a given topic, literature review, thesis etc. They encounter a journal online through its ‘content’ rather than its ‘form.’ The latter is irrelevant to them, and may as well not exist.”

Google publishes Stanford dissertations online

November 17th, 2009 by Roberto C. Delgadillo

Google publishes Stanford dissertations online

John Wildermuth, Special to The Chronicle

Monday, November 16, 2009

Stanford doctoral students will now be able to post their dissertations on Google as the university replaces the traditional bound volumes of acid-free paper with e-files of scholarly work.
Beginning last week, students who used to lug three or four copies of their capstone university work to Stanford’s registrar’s office could file their dissertations by simply uploading them from their computer.
“It doesn’t make sense anymore that the final medium for scholarship should still be paper,” said university Registrar Tom Black, one of the administrators behind the change.
The switch, which began last Monday, will affect the more than 600 doctoral dissertations filed each year at Stanford. Plans already are being made to extend the electronic effort to thousands of master’s theses and honors papers.
The key to the effort is the university’s partnership with Google, which will allow anyone with a computer to access the work of Stanford doctoral students.
“We have way north of 35,000 bound dissertations on our shelves,” said university Librarian Michael Keller, who has been pushing for the digital dissertations. “Many of them just stay on the shelf, forgotten and invisible, or scholars have to pay enormous sums to come to Stanford to read them.”
The Google link “will allow our students’ work to be seen more readily,” Keller added. “It may also help a student get identified online as an expert in a certain subject, which could help in the promotion of a young career.”
While other universities already allow electronic submissions, “we’re the only one we know of that’s going the whole route, with approval online and then sending it down the electronic pipe,” Keller said.
Until now, Stanford has used ProQuest, which has been in the academic publication business since the days of microfilm, to make its dissertations available to the scholarly community.
More creative freedom

But using the company costs money, which meant that students would end up paying as much as $221 in fees when they filed their dissertations with the registrar’s office. Stanford’s electronic filing system will be free, although students still can pay to have their dissertations listed on ProQuest, an online subscription service for dissertations and other academic publications.
The new system will give students more freedom to be creative in producing their work, Keller said, because electronic documents allow easier use of spreadsheets and graphics, as well as hot links to pictures, citations and other online resources.
There’s something in it for the university, also. Typically, students would have to print out their dissertations on pricey, acid-free, library stock paper, with two copies for the university library, another for ProQuest and yet another for their academic department. The staff in the Registrar’s Office would then have to go over each dissertation by hand before sending it out for binding, even measuring the margins to make sure the submissions met the exacting rules for publication.
“This is more convenient, more affordable and offers the students more choices,” because they can still go the traditional route if they prefer, Black said.
While the new program cost Stanford less than $50,000 to set up, there were plenty of academic questions that had to be answered.
Some balked at first

While the chance to put their work online for public viewing was enthusiastically endorsed by students in the sciences, there were more concerns from the humanities students, said Richard Roberts, a history professor who chairs the university’s committee on graduate studies.

“Science students are used to having their papers published quickly as journal articles,” he said. “But the ‘tenure book’ is very important in the humanities, and students were worried that making their work instantly accessible might affect publishers’ decisions later on.”

The problem was solved by allowing the graduate students to embargo their work for up to five years, to give them time to get it published. They also will be allowed to decide whether to release either 20 or 100 percent of their dissertation to Google.

To students raised in the Internet era, the idea of electronically submitting their work and then seeing it posted for all the world to see is a no-brainer.

“There’s something satisfying about holding a physical copy of the product of seven or eight years of college work,” said Greg Roberts of Concord, a mechanical engineering student studying in Stanford’s Graduate Community Center. “But this just makes a lot of sense.”

This article appeared on page C – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

New Report, “Support for the Research Process: An Academic Library Manifesto”

November 16th, 2009 by Daniel Goldstein

Take a look at this think-piece about how libraries can continue to support the research process.  The related blog links are also informative.

DUBLIN, Ohio, USA, 11 November 2009—This brief call-to-action document includes a list of ten action items for libraries in today’s rapidly changing scholarly research landscape.

Written by the RLG Partnership Research Information Management Roadmap Working Group, the report alludes to the changes in academic research and offers several principles to ensure the library is near the heart of the research process. It is intended to provide a wake-up call for academic libraries that the status quo no longer sufficiently serves researchers’ needs.

More information

Support for the Research Process: An Academic Library Manifesto Report (.pdf: 57K/2 pp.)

Research Information Management Roadmap Activity

Ricky Erway’s Academic Library Manifesto Blog Post on

Chris Bourg’s Academic Library Blog Post on Feral Librarian

Nobel Prize-winning scientists urge Congress to act on Open Access

November 14th, 2009 by David Michalski

Nobel Prize-winning scientists urge Congress to act on Federal Research Public Access Act

Nobel Prize-winning scientists urge Congress to act to ensure free
online access to federally funded research results

Washington, DC – “For America to obtain an optimal return on our
investment in science, publicly funded research must be shared as
broadly as possible,” is the message that forty one Nobel Prize-
winning scientists in medicine, physics, and chemistry gave to
Congress in an open letter delivered yesterday. The letter marks the
fourth time in five years that leading scientists have called on
Congress to ensure free, timely access to the results of federally
funded research – this time asking leaders to support the Federal
Research Public Access Act of 2009 (S.1373).

The Nobel Prize-winners write:

“As the pursuit of science is increasingly conducted in a digital
world, we need policies that ensure that the opportunities the
Internet presents for new research tools and techniques to be employed
can be fully exploited. The removal of access barriers and the
enabling of expanded use of research findings has the potential to
dramatically transform how we approach issues of vital importance to
the public, such as biomedicine, climate change, and energy research.
As scientists, and as taxpayers too, we support FRPAA and urge its

The bi-partisan Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA), introduced
by Senators Lieberman (I-CT) and Cornyn (R-TX), would deliver online
public access to the published results of research funded through
eleven U.S. agencies and departments, requiring that peer-reviewed
journal articles stemming from publicly funded research be made
available in an online repository no later than six months after

The Nobelists note that enabling access to this information would be
an important contribution in fostering innovation and fueling positive
economic and social returns:

“The open availability of federally funded research for broad public
use in open online archives is a crucial building block in laying a
strong national foundation to support accelerated discovery and
innovation. It encourages broader participation in the scientific
process by providing equitable access to high-quality research results
to researchers at higher education institutions of all kinds – from
research-intensive universities to community colleges alike. It can
empower more members of the public to become engaged in citizen
science efforts in areas that pique their imagination. It will equip
entrepreneurs and small business owners with the very latest research
developments, allowing them to more effectively compete in the
development of new technologies and innovations. Open availability of
this research will expand the worldwide visibility of the research
conducted in the U.S. and increase the impact of our collective
investment in research.”

The full text of the letter is online at

The Federal Research Public Access Act would build upon the success of
the first U.S. requirement for public access to publicly funded
research, through the National Institutes of Health. It is widely
supported by a broad set of stakeholders, including: scientists,
higher education leaders, librarians, consumer and economic groups
(including the Committee on Economic Development), technology
companies (including,, Bloomberg, eBay, Google,
Yahoo!, and state and local ISPs), publishers, patients and patient
advocates, and major national and regional research organizations. For
full details on support for the Act, visit

November 4th, 2009 by Daniel Goldstein

I’ve just finished reading Richard Fortey, Dry Storeroom No. 1 (Knopf, 2008), a memoir about the British Museum (Natural History) by the museum’s Trilobite expert.  Fortey walks his reader through the different behind the scenes working sections of the museum and introduces the reader to the buildings,  the collections, the research and most of all the people who inhabit those spaces.

In one way the book reminds me of James Herriott’s All Creatures Great and Small in that it is a collection of curious facts, stories and anecdotes about (mostly) charmingly eccentric people.  But the book has a much more serious purpose as well.  It contains a powerful argument for the importance of foundational scientific research–in the museum’s case, systematics–, of the collections of specimens and needed to support it, and of the people who have built up decades worth of taxonomic knowledge.  In one powerful passage he states:

But I do understand the primacy of collections as a record of the world, both human and natural.  There is more to collections than the golden rule about never throwing things away.  There is inherent value in having people who “know their stuff.”  The apparently esoteric can suddenly illuminate unsuspected areas of knowledge.  those who have devoted their lives to collections–obdurate people, odd people, admirable people–actually make a museum what it is and should be.