Archive for June, 2010

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Olivia Judson on the Research Process

June 30, 2010

I’ve very much enjoyed Olivia Judson’s column – technically, it’s a blog – in the New York Times.  She’s written about various aspects of biology, and she always has footnotes and references to scholarly sources!  Today she writes that she’s taking a hiatus, and uses her last column to discuss the way she’s gone about writing it.  It’s rare to see discussion of the research process, from idea-generation to preliminary searching to citation chaining to creating a finished piece, in a venue as widely-read as the Times.  I thought this was a nice window for non-scholars into the process – hope some undergrads are reading this column (I would definitely be assigning it if I were teaching Biology)!

But having an idea is one thing; developing it is another. Some ideas look great from the bathtub, but turn out to be as flimsy as soap bubbles — they pop when you touch them. Others are so huge they can’t easily be treated in 1,500 words or less, or would take two or three months to prepare. Still others — luckily — are just right. But I don’t usually find out which is which until I begin to investigate them.

This is the part I like most. I go to a science database called the ISI Web of Knowledge (this is not an open database, alas; my access is through Imperial College), and I start fishing: I type in key terms — fossil and color; brain and exercise; praying mantis and cannibal — and see what comes up. This gives me a sense of how much is known, and how complex the subject is. And then I begin to read. And read. And follow threads of information — who has referred to this paper? What is the original source of that fact?

Having done this, I let the information percolate. Often it takes me several runs at a subject to create something coherent.

(No, this is not directly relevant to Classics!)

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Late & Medieval Latin Dictionaries

June 22, 2010

Jenkins reviews only one dictionary that is limited to late latin, A. Souter, A glossary of later Latin to 600 A. D. (Main 3rd Floor PA2308 .S6 1996) – originally published 1949 (Jenkins no. 518).  This is a companion to the Oxford Latin Dictionary, whose coverage stops ca. 200AD, but it provides only definitions and some limited examples, covering the period ca. 180-600AD.  The TLL, which does cover to 600 AD, provides more detail (provided the letter in question has been reached.)

Jenkins does not cover medieval latin dictionaries, but we have a good selection of them at UGA, used by the Classics, Comparative Literature, and Religion departments (and perhaps others?)  On the shelves are (among others):

I was recently asked to explore an online product that contains many of these, the Brepolis Database of Latin Dictionaries (pdf).  It includes  Du Cange, Souter and Blaise (above) as well as Forcellini (discussed here) and Lewis & Short (discussed here), and a few other dictionaries, including historical (late medieval) ones.  It is described as expected to grow, and incorporates links to another Brepolis database, the Library of Latin Texts.

A free 30-day trial is available, but we did not request one as the funding is really not available for new subscriptions right now, so I have no comments to make on the usability of the interface.  The 3-seat option costs 430 Euros annually.

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Online Books: Google Books Greek and Latin and Hathi Trust

June 18, 2010

Google Books, working with Professors Greg Crane and Alison Babeu of Tufts University, has recently published two pages collecting digitized texts relevant to Classics.

  • Ancient Greek and Latin Texts is accessible to all, consisting of out-of-copyright volumes.  Downloadable (searchable!) zip files include plain text and images, and a link is provided to the Google Books page for the volume, which can then be read online or downloaded as a .pdf.
  • Ancient Greek and Latin Texts – Limited Distribution limits download of the zip files to users in the United States, and requires the user to log in with a Google account in order to download.   All users can get access to the Google Books page for the text, which may or may not be available for online reading or download as a .pdf.

If you are searching for digitized versions of ancient texts or scholarly works, I also recommend the Hathi Trust catalog.  Hathi Trust is managed by a cooperative association of major United States academic libraries.  It serves as a repository for many digitized collections of these libraries, and, like Google Books, includes many out-of-copyright works of scholarship in full.  Indeed, in some cases, Hathi Trust has worked to make scholarly works available when Google Books has not done so (I described an example here, and John Wilkin of the University of Michigan explained how they do it in comments).  I also find it has much better indexing than Google Books (since it relies on library records!), making the search for a known item much simpler than in Google Books, where often enough many irrelevant results clutter the screen.

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Adventures in 21st-Century Publishing : VDM / Alphascript

June 15, 2010

This spring, a faculty member asked me to look into a book that was listed for sale at Amazon, but not listed in Worldcat.    The book is titled History of Roman-era Tunisia: Praetorian prefecture of Africa, Exarchate of Africa, Shoshenq I, Phoenicia, Carthage, Hanno the Great, Hannibal, Syphax, … Utica, Tunisia, Berber people, Jugurtha with the author: Frederic P. Miller, Agnes F. Vandome, John McBrewster, eds.

I did some investigation and what I found raised concern (and my eyebrows!).  Here is the Amazon page.  (The book is listed as out of print, although it was only published Oct. 12, 2009; it was in print 2 months ago when this topic came up.) If you click on the name of the first editor, Frederic P. Miller, you get 39,748 results at Amazon (as of this writing), on a vast variety of topics (Catwoman, Electric Vehicle Batteries), all edited by Miller and the other two co-editors listed above.  A very prolific editorial team, to be sure!

The publisher is Alphascript Publishers, which has a website.  They describe themselves “publish[ing] more than 10,000 new titles [a year]” and as ” one of the leading publishing houses of academic research.”  They also describe themselves as  “specializ[ing] in publishing copyleft projects.”  I had to look up “copyleft,” which turns out to be a general term referring to open licensing for content, i.e. the GNU General Public License and the Creative Commons ShareAlike License.

When I Googled for Alphascript Publishers the situation cleared up. There are Yahoo Answers, forum emails,  and blog posts inquiring about or investigating this publisher, and the consensus is that the publisher assembles books based on Wikipedia articles, perhaps using some computer algorithm for selecting an array of articles on related subjects.  They apply for ISBNs and list the “books” at Amazon, only printing them when an order is actually placed.  The legality of the practice (on the part of the publisher and Amazon both) is questioned by some; I do not have the skills to assess these challenges.  Legal or not, a bound version of Wikipedia articles freely available online is definitely not, for most would-be purchasers, worth the $40-$80 price asked for these “books” at Amazon.

The parent company, VDM Publishing, also apparently finds scholars who have recently completed theses or dissertations and emails them to with an invitation to publish, at low or no cost to the author.  At least one school (Michigan Tech) has added a comment on this practice to its FAQ for dissertation writers, noting that while the company is a publisher, because there is no peer review, publishing with them is unlikely to further one’s academic career.  The practice is also discussed in forums where PhD students tend to congregate.

Very strange indeed!  Librarians and scholars should both be aware of this brave new world of publishing.  While I am in favor of creative commons licensing, open access, and making works of scholarship more widely available, I don’t think VDM Publishing is the way to go about achieving the open access revolution.

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Tutorial for New L’Annee Philologique Interface

June 4, 2010
Here’s a link to a first draft of a tutorial for the new interface to L’Annee.  I’ll be teaching the interface to a class (UGA’s Summer Classics Institute students) for the first time on June 14th, so it may see some revision after that. I teach the interface “live” in the classroom, and ask the students to follow along on the computers in the teaching lab, but I give them a powerpoint tutorial to come back and refer to if they get stuck when they are on their own.
L annee philologique_online_new
If anyone would like to refer others to this tutorial, or embed it in your course pages (it does embed, but this blog style does not support embeds), feel free to do so, with proper attribution of course.
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On Information Management

June 1, 2010

When I started this blog a couple of months ago, and created an accompanying twitter account (which, I know, I am not using much yet, sorry), I didn’t realize I would be adding the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of Too Much Information. But in addition to remembering yet another username and password, I am now struggling with keeping up with both producing content and consuming content online.  Disentangling the private and professional online is also a bit of a mess in my head right now.   So I’m starting a blog-project on information management that I hope will help me define things a bit, and will also help me better serve the faculty and students I work with, who are probably facing many of the same problems.

Here’s where I stand as a content producer/distributor:

I have one Facebook account, that is mostly an expression of my private life (i.e. I interact(ed) socially in real life with almost all of my Facebook friends).  But since many of my ‘friends’ are current or former coworkers, or former fellow-students, I also have a dimension of my professional life on Facebook.

I have two twitter accounts (@phoebeacheson and @classicslib), and contribute to a group account (@ugalibsref).  I am most muddled about what is personal and what is professional in this arena right now.

I have three blogs: this one, a private personal one, and a public one that is rather boring unless you are deeply excited by plumbing and gardening.  I have also been invited to contribute to the Ancient World Bloggers’ Group (though have not done so yet) and I contribute to the UGA Library blog.  Here my boundaries and scopes are delightfully clear. Whew.

I also recently set up an academia.edu page, and am on Linkedin (not very actively).  I explored Connotea a couple of years ago, and my account is still there.  Did I mention I have four email addresses?

Offline, I have published one article as a librarian so far (okay, that’s online too, but the sent me paper offprints! I marveled), and just last Friday gave my first presentation at a small regional conference (Atlanta Area BIG 2010).

In terms of content consumption, I subscribe to 8 professional email list-servs (aside from ones limited to my workplace), and read around 80 work-related blogs (it’s hard to say exactly, as I only have one Google Reader account and also sometimes it’s hard to decide what is personal and what is professional – is Language Log or Uncertain Principles something I read because I enjoy them personally, because they inform my work (they don’t, directly, but do get me thinking…), or both?) I continually feel like I’m not keeping up in some areas, but I also feel like I’m devoting too much time to this sort of keeping up as it is.

I don’t do nearly as much original research as active scholars in Classics do, but I have both a RefWorks account and an EndNote library (the latter really only so I can teach it to others; I use RefWorks for my research projects) and keep meaning to do something with Zotero.

Note I haven’t mentioned non-internet methods of acquiring and distributing information, like talking to colleagues, teaching classes and one-on-one sessions, browsing the stacks of the library, and keeping up with print periodicals.  I do almost all of those, too.

Am I managing all this well?  In terms of consumption, am I finding what I need and keeping up with areas I am most interested in, while weeding out irrelevant-to-me information?  In terms of production, am I reaching my target audience (have I defined a target audience?) with the information and messages I want to convey?  Am I useful to my target audience?  How can I tell?

To further my thinking in these areas I’m going to start having a series of conversations with scholars – hopefully people of different generations who are in different places in their careers – about how they manage information related to their scholarly work and identity.  With their permission, I’ll write up accounts of our chats and post them here, in hopes that I can start answering some of these questions for myself, and help those around me solve any information management problems they may be having.