Tag Archives: tools

University Helpdesk for Digital Research Skills #theta2015

Reimaging the University Helpdesk for the Next Generation of Digital Research Skills (abstract)
Dr. Steven Manos, David F. Flanders and Dr. Fiona Tweedie

Can’t hope to offer one-to-one support to all the researchers they need to support (especially in the context of the “digital native researcher”) so want to reimagine how they offer support.

Asked researchers what tools they use:
eg python, git, chrome, WebGL, OpenGL, Data-Driven Documents
eg ArcGIS, Google Maps, SPSS
eg Terminal, Matlab, Dropbox, Evernote, iPhone camera
eg Anaconda, R, PsychoPy, iPython, Markdown
Often have enormous of array of tools in their toolbox but still want to add more tools, so how can we hope to help them.

“Community: it’s what makes digital research possible”. Instead of supporting researchers with tools, encourage/facilitate users of these tools to support each other. [Ooh so much potential here.] Build community. Researchers already often learn from each other. All training done by researchers. Research networks tend to be self-sustaining and ongoing.

“A helpdesk is reactive. A training community is proactive.”

Sometimes run into “I have books, leave me alone” and “I don’t computer”. But many excited by being able to flash up a paper by adding a customised map. Workshop on this, very popular, researchers coming back, had 3-4 papers come out.

Software carpentry – teaching coding to non-coders. Teaching them enough coding to be able to make use of Python, R, Matlab in their work (eg a for loop) to make their lives easier without trying to turn them into computer scientists. Taught by researchers for researchers. Intensive, hands-on, many helpers. Every 15min stop talking and they do a challenge to put into practice. Code breaks – important for people to see how this works: you google the error message, the answer is on StackOverflow and you patch it up and continue.

Data carpentry assumes no coding experience. Teaching text mining/analysis for humanities.

How do we get people involved in 3D printing? Throw a grant at them. [Ah to be in an organisation where a few thousand dollars is spare change. 🙂 ]

Research Tool Speed Dating: set up tools on workstations around the room and rotate researchers around the room – if they like it they can set up a second ‘date’ ie training.

HackyHour: come to a bar and people can come, have a drink, ask questions.

Research Bazaar: pulled 19 courses together over a 3-day event.

Different people engage in different ways so having all these methods is really important.

Why would a university want to invest/engage in something like this? [Why wouldn’t it?!] Often IT shops are enterprise-focused, not researcher-focused. Take a user-driven approach.

Asked researchers to cite them if skills help produce articles, and 2 articles have been published citing ResBaz (Research Bazaar). Much social media engagement.

ResBaz going international – Mozilla Science taking over the community. 1st week of Feb next year if you want to do it at your university.


  • open and collaborative platforms
  • some fanatical community engagement
  • cost-effective

Introducing the ResBaz Cookbook (in development)

My reo Māori dictionary lookup bookmarklet

So sometimes (especially during Te Wiki o te Reo Māori) I’m reading stuff on the web and come across a kupu hou I don’t recognise and want to look up. I used to select this, open a new tab, type in http://www.maoridictionary.co.nz/, wait for it to load, and paste the word in.

Then I went on a javascript bookmarklet spree and among the simple bookmarklets I made (aka created in a Frankensteinian mashup of at least two other people’s unrelated bookmarklets) was this one:

He aha?

Click and drag the link into your browser bookmarks bar. Then you can just select any word(s) and click the bookmarklet. It will pop up a new window which looks up the word for you; when you’re done reading, close it and you’re back to reading.

Links of Interest 19/10/2011 – infolit & student success; serials; conferences

The Swiss Army Librarian posts a regular “Reference Question of the Week”. One of the latest covers using file conversion websites to help a desperate patron who needs to print out a file in a format that the library doesn’t support.

Sense and Reference discusses three recent blogposts on libraries getting rid of books to create spaces.

The effect of library instruction on student success
Three C&RL papers:

  • The Academic Library Impact on Student Persistence: “a change in the ratio of library professional staff to students predicts a statistically significant positive relationship with both retention and graduation rates.” (Note that they show correlation, not causation; in their discussion they’re inclined to suspect that the effect of more library professional staff is an indirect one.)
  • Measuring Association between Library Instruction and Graduation GPA: “if more than one or two library workshops were offered to students within the course of their program, there was a higher tendency of workshop attendance having a positive impact on final GPA. The results indicate that library instruction has a direct correlation with student performance, but only if a certain minimum amount of instruction is provided.”
  • Why One-shot Information Literacy Sessions Are Not the Future of Instruction: A Case for Online Credit Courses: “Researchers analyzed the pre- and post-test scores of students who received different types of instruction including a traditional one-shot library session and an online course. Results show that students who participated in the online course demonstrated significant improvement in their test scores compared to the other students. This study shows freshman students’ needs for more comprehensive information literacy instruction.”


  • Jenica Rogers names names of vendors with annoying practices. Some vendors responded well; some badly. Jenica posted another followup on Vendors that delight me.
  • SCOAP3 is an initiative to set up a consortium that redirects library funds from paying for closed access High Energy Physics journal subscriptions to funding these journals to be made open access. The FAQ goes into more detail about how the model will work.


  • LIANZA 2011 starts on Sunday – #lianza11 tweets from all attendees will be captured in a set of CoverItLive sessions and I’ll be liveblogging as much as my wrists allow
  • the worldwide online Library 2.011 conference will follow, running from November 2 – 4, with sessions held in multiple timezones.

Keeping track of contacts

Last week I put an Access database template up on my website and thought I’d better get around to actually mentioning it. What it does is keep brief notes of all my interactions (face-to-face, phone, email) with the academics, research students, and undergraduates I liaise with. (The templates actually on the website of course only have dummy data.)

My old system was handwritten notes on a copy of the welcome letter each grad student received on enrolling. This was Suboptimal for many reasons that only began with the fact that I could never decide whether to sort by first name, surname, or department… The database lets me:

  • sort by anything I like;
  • see together everything I’ve talked about with any given person, or everything I’ve talked about regarding any given course;
  • or my favourite (which I got the fantastic help of @dakvid for coding the SQL; also more generally I want to acknowledge my colleague Margaret Paterson for her inspiring beta-testing) – sorting all my contacts to show at the top the people I talked with the longest ago so I can be reminded to catch up with them.

As I said, I’m currently using it for liaison work but I suspect it could be used for other uses too, so if anyone wants to nab a copy, there it is.

Launching Ref2RIS – convert your typed bibliography to Endnote format

Several months ago I blogged about Converting a plaintext bibliography to RIS format for Endnote. It’s not as painful a process as typing up hundreds/thousands of records, but it’s still painful.

This last week, I had to repeat the process. Eight painful work-hours later, I heard a colleague had something similar to do. And I thought there must be a way to automate it so one doesn’t have to do the endless typing every time.

Then I was home sick and got bored and ended up making a basic APA converter. Then (still sick and still bored) I got all fancy-schmancy and named and documented it and everything.

Thus, Ref2RIS.


  • If you really can’t get access to MacOS or Linux to do this on and can’t get sed on Windows, email me – I’ll do it for a dollar or a good cause.
  • If you need a style other than APA, also email me. Whether/how quickly I get around to it will depend on a complex formula of many factors, but I think it’ll be quicker to make than the first one was, and right at the moment my motivation is high.
  • If you use it successfully, please let me know, spread the word, and/or if you’re really enthusiastic there’s a tipjar on the site.

Links of interest 3/6/09

Gateway to Scientific Data from the Canadian government.

Emerald Management Reviews Citations of Excellence Top 50 papers

The first time Europeana (a digital library funded by the European Commission) launched so many people visited that it promptly crashed. This time it seems to be stable and is very nice to browse.

Musopen “is an online music library of copyright free (public domain) music.” (Project Gutenberg and Mutopia also have sheet music; Gutenberg also has music recordings, moving pictures, etc.)

Have you ever used Tinyurl to make a short link for a long url? Now Krunchd gives you a short link for a collection of urls.

David Lee King writes about embedding a link to their virtual reference in their HIP catalogue (including on their Search Results page).

Stephen Abram writes about how phrasing on signage can increase compliance.

Non-English blog roundup

I’ve always liked learning other languages (three in high school, a couple more at university, two more when I travelled to their respective countries, medieval Danish when I started writing a fantasy book set in medieval Denmark…) and a while ago it occurred to me that not only are there library blogs written in languages other than English, but it’d be nice to make some of what they’re saying accessible to the English-speaking world.

I read two posts this morning that inspired me to start today. Note that my grasp of the Scandinavian languages remains patchy, but hopefully my translations aren’t too misleading.

  • Daniel Forsman on Betabib (Swedish) reports that “Inspired by Penn State’s work I’ve just built an ‘HTML | iGoogle gadget generator’ for our direct search function.” You can see the resulting widget on the Jönköping Högskolebiblioteket homepage under “Direktsökning” – the dropdown menu allows searching in various databases, and the “+Google” button allows users to add the search to their iGoogle page.
  • Erik Høy on Biblog (Danish) points to Mellop, a website which gives you a free email address that lasts for 15 minutes. Why would you want an email address that you can’t use for longer than that? Well, a lot of web services require you to give an email address when registering, which they send your password or confirmation to. Maybe you don’t trust them to not keep spamming you, so give them a Mellop temporary address, receive the email with the password/confirmation, and throw away the Mellop address. Warning: if you later forget your password for the web service, you’ll have a hard time convincing them to give it to you again now your Mellop email address no longer works.

LibWorld has a great round-up of blogs in various countries, which I’ll have to look through properly at some time(s). Does anyone know of any other non-English library blogs I should be following? I can probably get more or less sense out of French, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch, and the Scandinavian languages. I probably couldn’t get much out of Korean, but it’d be fun trying.

Not having a good Web 2.0 day

It’s my late night tonight so, thrust straight onto the busy desk at 1pm after a quiet weekend I was already suffering from first-day-back syndrome. Between requests for “Mechanics of Materials” (my new canned catalogue tutorial introduction now begins with “Do you mean the ‘Mechanics of Materials’ by Hibbeler, Gere, Craig, Riley, or Beer and Johnston?”) I’ve been trying to catch up on a couple hundred blog posts. I’ve got a good system for this which combines Google Reader, Firefox’s tabs for the interesting ones, and the generally excellent Diigo’s bookmarking for the keepers.

Today Diigo wanted me to sign in. I figured this was because I’d been gone several days over Easter, so I complied and went back to bookmarking. It kept wanting me to sign in, but (between requests for “the blue Mechanics of Materials” – this narrows it down to either Gere or Beer and Johnston) I found it easier to keep complying and bookmarking than to stop and wonder why. Only after a few hours of this did I notice that one of my bookmarking attempts was giving me a small error message. And only half an hour later did I realise that nothing I’d bookmarked today had in fact been saved.

Half an hour later I worked out the reason: Diigo has been upgraded to Diigo 3.0. I had read about this earlier in the day (some guy reviewed it and complained that other reviews missed the point – but it being a bad Web 2.0 day I can’t find the review anymore) and put it on my “investigate tomorrow maybe” list. I hadn’t realised that failing to immediately download the new toolbar completely broke any functionality the old toolbar had had.

That? Not User-Friendly.

I now have the new toolbar, and it is indeed cool, but not cool enough to assuage my bitterness at having to wade back through a couple hundred blog posts and rebookmark everything of interest.

Oh – maybe I got the news about Diigo by email; that’d explain why it’s not in my Google Reader results. I can’t check right now because my institution’s email system seems to be on the blink.

Online flowchart generator

Last year a new course started here, compulsory for all 700-odd intermediate-year engineers at the university. On the plus side, the course coordinator was wonderful about getting the library involved in their first assignment; on the minus side… well, 700 intermediate-year engineers all desperately needing to know how to cite websites and videos in APA.

So this year I’m creating an ambitious display all about citing. It’s going to have whats, whys and hows; a three-step process; links to more online information; possibly a puzzle with prizes (must ransack the drawer of vendors’ highlighters to see if we’ve got anything fun); and a tip of the day with “ingredients”, a flowchart, and “here’s some we prepared earlier” examples.

So I needed to make flowcharts. I wasn’t going to draw them by hand or mess about with Word shapes. I remembered playing with an online flowchart generator which was awkward but workable – I just couldn’t remember the name or find it again. This was lucky, because instead I found Gliffy

Gliffy’s free demo lets you have five free flowcharts – that means five at any one time, as you can create a chart, save it as a jpg (or png or svg), ‘revise’ it into a completely new chart, rinse and repeat as many times as you like (or at least as many times as I’ve needed – 14 so far).

It’s all click-and-drag, very user friendly. Far more options than I need or understand, but easy to find the options I do need. Colours, fonts, sizes and styles are customisable. Arrows attach to boxes so things can be dragged about and stay attached to each other. Copy and paste works!

An example of one of the flowcharts I’ve been making, for how to cite journal articles in APA: