Search This Blog

Thursday, 17 April 2014

iTell rewards

Call for applications for ALIA research awards is now open. This post is a reflection from a previous Award recipient.

Suzana Sukovic
Photograph 'iTell reflection' by Hannah Berekoven
A study trip to Europe was one of my highlights last year thanks to the ALIA Research Award. I received it for the project entitled iTell: digital storytelling@National Year of Reading. The project started at the beginning of the National Year of Reading when I decided to investigate issues of writing and reading in a digital era while giving students at the school where I work an opportunity to try something new. This is how iTell was born. Transliteracy and digital storytelling were at the core of the project, and as project developed, I felt I missed a connection with relevant communities of practice. I applied for the ALIA Research Award proposing to travel to the United Kingdom to meet with a few key people in areas of interest and attend DS8: Digital Storytelling Festival, hosted by the University of Glamorgan’s George Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling, in June 2013 in Cardiff. I was delighted when my proposal was accepted in spring 2012 and the grant covered some project expenses and a study trip, which would take me to a main DS event in the world. 

Between my grant application and the trip, iTell was going through some major developments. Library staff were trained in digital storytelling and we provided a few rounds of workshops to students at our school. I was interested in experimenting with boundaries between reading and writing, so in iTell students worked with existing stories to develop their own unique perspective based on their reading. Although some students decided to work with their original writing, most based their digital stories on books. During the workshops, I gathered data about their engagement with learning, development of transliteracy skills and any impact on students’ learning. By the time my study trip started, iTell was presented at several conferences and professional gatherings. After some ups and downs, it was a well established project, which generated interesting data. At that time, I was curious how experiences with the project fit with developments elsewhere.

My study trip started in June 2013 with a whole day seminar at the British Library and an opportunity to catch up with colleagues I met in the past. Later I traveled to Bath to meet with some members of the original PART Group (Production and Research in Transliteracy), which initiated the concept of transliteracy as we discuss in the LIS field today. Professor Sue Thomas, the creator and leader of the Group, was very generous with her time and traveled to Bath to meet with Prof Kate Pullinger, Australian Dr Donna Hancox and me. We spent a few hours talking about transliteracy, multimedia and research interests. To this day, I cherish the opportunity to learn about the development of transliteracy from its originators. 

DS8 conference dinner
DS8 in Cardiff was the final destination of my study trip where I found a very diverse crowd of media producers – from community and health workers to political activists and academics – coming from Japan, Egypt, Norway and, mainly, from the UK. I was a bit of an unsual presence there as the only person from Australia and LIS sector. My paper iTell: digital stories for creative readers was presented in the panel session Digital Storytelling inEducation. After a day of thought provoking presentations, there was a conference dinner with a difference. I thought I knew what conference dinners were about, but here we were in a room with a bar, listening to impromptu storytelling, some even in musical forms. I left lovely people of Cardiff, bilingual signs and chilly Welsh winds with some heart-warming memories.

Months later in Sydney I am still feeling benefits of my study trip. Unlike academics who tend to travel to international conferences, this experience was a privilege for a profession-based researcher. Not only that I learnt interesting things, but experiences I had are a constant reference point and a confidence-builder in my work. At times when I am unsure how to tackle questions of my branching involvement with transliteracy, I rely on Susan Thomas’s voice in my mind telling me that there aren’t any ready answers. When I wonder about a reflective space digital storytelling opens for our students, I remember numerous examples of how digital stories are used for healing with prisoners and victims of trauma. A sense that my approach to digital storytelling through reading has a potential for further exploration is now based on confirmations from a digital storytelling community. A freshening effect of chilly summer rains in foreign lands, far away from a daily grind, shouldn’t be underestimated either.

A new round of proposals for ALIA research awards is now open. I would strongly encourage all of you interested in research to send a proposal and see where it will take you.

Come to the next LARK meeting on 1 May if you wish to talk with experienced researchers and get some advice from members of the ALIA Research Committee!

Friday, 11 April 2014

'Librarians as Researchers' in Perth

By Gaby Haddow
The ALIAWest Committee organised an event at the State Library WA this week titled Librarians as researchers. It was advertised as:
Learn how you can take that great idea or interesting project you are currently working on and share it with the world. The session will work through how you can convert an idea you have into a conference paper or journal article. Starting with preparing the abstract, then translating the abstract into a paper or presentation. Hear from others who have gone through the process and perhaps event attempt to prepare a short abstract during the session and receive feedback from others.

Over 25 practitioners came along – a great turnout for an after work event. The session included two presentations by practitioners with experience. The first was a very brief ‘3 tips about writing an abstract for a conference paper submission’, followed by a longer presentation about submitting an article to a journal. A colleague and I then raced through some of the main issues to consider when writing and submitting a conference paper abstract – using the ‘just published’ instructions for submissions to the Online Conference in 2015.

My own tips for running a session like this:
1.       Don’t try to fit too much in – with 90 minutes, the event this week couldn’t possibly cover everything it promised in any depth
2.       Allow lots of time for questions
3.       Include some time for hands-on work or one-to-one discussions with attendees

Monday, 7 April 2014

LARK meetup: kickstart a research project

Do you want to start a research project? Do you want to connect with other people with similar research interests? Yes? Come to the LARK Meetup! 

You will have a chance to meet the LARK Committee and discuss research ideas with people with similar interests. Dr Mary Anne Kennan, Senior Lecturer in the School of Information Studies at Charles Sturt University will be there to help with advice and facilitation. 

When? Thursday, 1 May from 6 to 8 pm
Where? St.Vincent’s College, Potts Point
Light refreshments will be served
ALIA members: a gold coin donation, non-members $5
RSVP and map Eventbrite

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Let’s not forget how to walk…

By Katherine Howard
Some of you may have seen the media release and subsequent blog posts from Swets in December last year about Natural Language Processing and academic literature search. 

Natural Language Processing – or NLP – is not a new field of study, but according to Swets it has seen renewed attention since Yahoo acquired the NLP technology company, SkyPhrase, in early December last year.  NLP draws on concepts and research from multiple fields, such as linguistics (including computer-mediated communication, or CMC), human-computer interaction (HCI), artificial intelligence (AI); and those more closely related to LIS such as information retrieval (IR) and knowledge representation (KR).

Broadly, NLP is about developing a computer language that is capable of understanding natural human languages such as English, with all of its idiosyncrasies: synonyms, homonyms, homographs for example that are largely incomprehensible to a computer.  However, advances have been and continue to be made, with perhaps the best-known current application of NLP being spelling and grammar check.

The blog posts relate the advantages of NLP to academic researchers in particular, whose role it is to “stay[…] abreast of recent developments” (Part 1, para. 1) in their field.  The case is made that while a researcher may be able to tell very quickly which search results are relevant, the sheer amount of information available makes it possible that other useful extant material may not be located by that researcher.  NLP seeks to understand the content/topic that the researcher is interested in by using “indicator phrases” to contextualise the surrounding words and sentences in order to return more highly relevant results. Or in ‘librarian speak,’ a higher precision to recall ratio, where the computer itself will be able to determine if the duck you want to carve is for dinner or a hobby.

This contextualisation is known as ‘semantic search’, and the second blog post briefly discusses this and the (until now) hypothetical semantic web.  The importance of metadata as an aid to this semantic discoverability is highlighted, and it is explained how NLP processing principles can be used to “automatically extract textual metadata and classify resources into established taxonomies” (Part 2, para. 5).

The premise underpinning this technological development is the realisation that
“Familiar keyword search as in Google […] is not always the ideal mechanism when looking for scholarly material […]. Pure keyword search may well miss crucial subtleties of context in academic literature, fail to return results rich in semantically similar keywords, or be incapable of tailoring results depending on whether the user is looking for discussion of methods, support for a hypothesis, background reading and literature review or a myriad of other specific uses for the material” (Part 1, para. 10).

As information professionals, we have known this for a while now. We have highly developed search skills that enable us to find the right information at the right time - but what do non-information professionals do? How do people obtain the skills to not only find information, but to evaluate it for its relevancy, accuracy and validity? The necessity for these skills in today’s information-rich environment I believe moves far beyond the academic researchers that are the subject of these two blog posts.  Anyone who seeks information electronically – whether via the World Wide Web or via subscription databases – should have these skills. This doesn’t mean I’m arguing for Grandma to have a skill-set equal to that of a qualified librarian – these skills can be learnt (and used) to varying degrees of expertise.  I believe we, as a profession, need to advocate for these skills to be viewed as essential in today’s world as both reading and writing.

“But the semantic web is coming soon – we won’t have to think about how to structure a search statement, or to evaluate results for relevancy because it will all be done for us,” I hear you cry!  As wonderful and exciting as these developments are – and I am looking forward to seeing the opportunities that NLP may bring to our profession – I am not sure that we should rely so heavily on technology to “[…] determine whether some, all or none [of the search results] are relevant to the user’s search” (Part 2, para. 2).  It is another tool that can be utilised to enhance the service that we offer our users.

After all, most of us know how to drive a car, but that doesn’t mean we have forgotten how to walk.

You can read the full posts at:

S.M. Das (2013, December 3). Natural language processing (NLP) and academic literature search (Part 1) [blog post].
S.M. Das (2013, December 17). NLP in academic literature search (Part 2) [blog post].

This post first appeared in the Research Column, March issue of InCite.

Katherine Howard is a PhD Candidate at the Queensland University of Technology