Monday, September 26, 2011

In search of a PhD

Revisiting something that I posted on Facebook some time ago, and have decided to repost and revise with my current reading.

Those seeking to get into a PhD program should read the following books:

The postgraduate research handbook :succeed with your MA, MPhil, EdD and PhD /Gina Wisker.
Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

How to get a PhD :a handbook for students and their supervisors /Estelle M. Phillips and Derek S. Pugh.
Buckingham [England] ; Philadelphia : Open University Press, 2000.

While they don't tell you how to get into a PhD Programme, they do tell you what to do when you are in. However, they have been useful in giving me hints about what potential supervisors or faculty evaluating PhD applications will look for in the applications process.

Definitely, those who review the applications will want a student who has a narrow topic, that is already refined, and also demonstrates the capability to take on independent research and are almost confident in what they are going to do. Further, that one must have a research idea that is original, an idea that will make an original contribution to the discipline, as a PhD must offer some innovative and new knowledge to the discipline.

It is also best that you test out your methods of research before grad school. You can undertake this either in your Masters research or just in your own attempt to get a publication in a journal. I got from the books that I need to acquaint myself with what PhD work looks like in order to know what is expected of me when I do my PhD.

Today I learned more about what it is - a 'book-length manuscript' often 200 pages in lenght, with a 'statement of a well-defined problem within an area', 'a review of how the problem' has been dealt with in the literature and a 'statement of a new approach to the problem' (Goldsmith,  Gold and Komlos 2001).


Goldsmith, J. A., Gold, P. S., & Komlos, J. (2001). The Chicago guide to your academic career: A portable mentor for scholars from graduate school through tenure. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The state of LIS as a discipline and its "research"

One of my course readings for the research methods course was on an article by Budd and Hill entitled "The Cognitive and Social Lives of Paradigms in Information Science". I must say that the reading by Budd and Hill makes me motivated to read Kuhn's work on the nature of scientific paradigms and revolutions for myself to form my own opinions about its relevance and application in Library and Information Science. The following reading was posted or submitted as part of my weekly reading reaction report

In this blog entry I want to discuss 3 main points:
  1. How disciplines/theories/paradigms are formed?
  2. Trends in LIS research
  3. How can changes be made to LIS as well as how changes are stifled?

Most importantly for me, the reading caused me to reflect on how school of thoughts, theories disciplines and sub-disciplines are formed or emerge.These are all socio-economic products and constructs. In the previous class we concluded that research problems must be rooted in the social and situated in society, as well as in a discipline. This reading, was however not as normative, but more descriptive about the process.

Irwin Sperber is cited in Budd and Hill as indicating that funding impacts the development of science, as does politics in the case of political appointments to important, well-funded  and powerful agencies. Sperber is also cited as indicating that the audience to which a scientist must communicate and be accountable also impacts on science. This brings me to a critical look at LIS research trends in its publications and literature in general.

In the case of librarianship, I see where the audience, the practitioners and pragmatic professionals impact on the research of the field. The issues of practitioners or professionals do not necesarily overlap with the issues that academics want to study. Practitioners want research situated in practice, and in my view, academics question and criticize the nature of the practice in the first place. Practitioners are looking for ways to do their jobs better and improve their practice, while academics may question, what is it that is practiced and why?

With regards to funding, I see where vendors are sponsoring, partnering or encouraging librarians to present papers and to research their products and its use by library users. I have been to conferences where vendors and practitioners are co-presenters, and have seen in the LIS literature numerous publications that focus on technology products and how these were either implemented in libraries or are being received by library users. Can these be legitimately termed “research” and “scientific research” at that. Aren't these what we call “market research”?

Another issue to discuss is how can LIS change. From my reading and understanding of Kuhn through Budd and Hill's writing, because science is social (Sperber expands it to political and economics), if  young scholars and academics such as myself and my peers in the PhD programme want to change LIS and its direction as a discipline, then it begins with us making a strategic alliance and agreeing to principles, research methods and what constitutes the problems of LIS today. That is if we accept, as I do, the definition of a paradigm as a 'state of collaboration, agreement, attention to a specific set of problems, and co-citation...' (p.4).

At the same time, we are scientists bred after our own kind, by faculty. Our beliefs, principles and methods will be inherited from our socialisation with faculty members at FIMS UWO. FIMS will shape us and our scientific approaches to researching and thinking about LIS. We will see the problems of LIS through their eyes.

The reading has definitely caused me to reflect that LIS is an immature science, in danger of being subverted by politics, economics and pragmatism. Pragmatism according to Budd and Hill are the major forces that shapes science through funding sources and departmental faculties, an issue which I see aptly applicable to LIS. LIS is shaped by funding sources- whether government, corporate or private bodies in my view, and I am yet to see the extent of the influence of departmental faculties.

For LIS, with the evidence based practice movement, I see where more and more, LIS research and theories will be chosen based on social and economic pragmatic reasons, rather than by LIS community identifying the gaps in our current research and theories, and intellectually, rationally and objectively filling those gaps.


Budd, John M. & Heather Hill. (2007). "The Cognitive and Social Lives of Paradigms in Information Science." Paper published in the proceedings presented at the Conference of the Canadian Association of Information Science. Information Sharing in a Fragmented World: Crossing Boundaries. McGill University, Montreal, Quebec. May 10 - 12, 2007.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Library and Information Science as a discipline

Some discussions have caused me to reflect on library and information science (LIS) as a discipline. In fact the issues are so many that I wonder if LIS can really be called a "discipline". Today, we have little theory as we borrow our theories and methods from other disciplines.

Further, we are having trouble categorising and labelling ourselves especially as information and communication technologies have changed and revolutionised how people acquire, seek, access and create information. There are those with different philosophies that have removed the term "library" all together, and have just focused on 'information science'.  

Another problem is that the library and information science community, apart from being divided over labels as to what to call themselves, are also divided into two camps, the scholarly community and the professional or practitioner community. For the practitioners, research must be situated in practice, as they need answers to understand how to do their work better. For the scholars, they question the nature of the work being done by practitioners in the first place.

In my view, most LIS publishers for the main part are interested in publishing for practice and may not necessarily serve the interests of scholars in disseminating their research. Of course, publishers are driven by the need to profit from publications, and must seek to publish articles that they believe their audience will want to read. For scholars and academics, the issues of professional journals are not necessarily issues that they contemplate and have an interest in researching. For when you are an academic in the ivory tower, you get a license to research anything of interest and may pursue research that questions the very nature of what is currently practiced in the field of librarianship. Much of this research may never be integrated into practice.

I heard a view expressed that LIS should no longer be a discipline, as every discipline requires the methods, practices and skills of library and information science. In every discipline, information is being generated, and needs to be organised, managed, acquired and made accessible. Who better to do it that the persons who are already situated in those communities?

This has gotten me to think that library and information science should actually be a foundation course for all disciplines. Rather than train a group of professionals and practitioners who specialise in organising, managing and facilitating the acquisition and access to information, why not train every one to do it so that they can manage their own information.

The practitioners of librarianship are complaining that nobody values their work. Perhaps, the solution is to move from actually doing the work to training persons from all disciplines to do the work. Rather than teach specific techniques, methods and systems, why not teach generic methods for information organisation. Through this process we can raise awareness of the best practices that we have discovered and show the importance of what we know and have been doing and why it is important that persons of varying disciplines realise this.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Learning about Natural Language Processing and its applications for libraries, librarians and beyond

I attended my first Language and Computer technologies class today with Victoria Rubin. My professor opened my eyes for the first time to the fact that when libraries talk about library automation or library technologies, most of the time they exclude natural language processing technologies. She however raised the issue that this should not be the case, as there are lots of applications of computer processing natural language applicable to libraries.

For example:
  • automated summarisation software to summarise a large document in a page or few paragrahs,
  • machine translation applications to translate documents in foreign language
  • automated indexing applications among many others.
Through her class, I caught her vision to extend library practice from beyond the technologies that libraries are already applying or talking about.

Rubin made the case that language can be processed by computers but that there are certain challenges that must be understood. Her main thesis was that computers can recognise and analyse human language, and with the right algorithms and understanding of the process in which human beings make sense of, interpret and use language, a lot of applications could be created that could further automate various library processes.

One such process is the reference service. Computers could be used to process user queries and reply to their questions, especially for those questions that require simple answers.

What she made clear was that once we can break up an intelligent human task into a sequence of steps, then algorithms could be written to enable computers to perform them.

Throughout the rest of this course, I will be learning about Natural Language Processing and its applications for libraries, librarians and beyond.

 As I sat in the class I thought about the myriad of ideas and work processes that I have in which I wanted automated. Grading and marking student papers is one. I want to be able to write or create an application that automatically marks a student's essay for me.

Also, I want to be able to take data that is not in any structure and use a software to structure that data for me so as to make it available for input into a database. Many times I get a list or directory in a text format, that I want to get into a database or spreadsheet format, and have to manually copy and paste to enter such data into the software application.

Then there is also my idea about cellular/mobile phone applications, where users can interact with a library's online catalogue through text or SMS messaging in order to retrieve data.

I am looking forward to learning about these new technologies that I have not seen in the library literature or heard being discussed at library conferences, except for those natural language processing applications that relate to assistive technologies.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Language Technologies and the Future of libraries: Preliminary thoughts

I was just looking at a course that I will be taking this semester entitled: “Language and Computer Technologies for Libraries and Beyond” .

The course introduced me to the IBM computer Watson that played Jeopardy and beat the best human champions. I also learned about Eliza, an intelligent agent (chatterbot) in the 1960's that tricked human beings into thinking that she was a real therapist who could help them talk about their problems.

It got me thinking that in the future, computers may be so intelligent, that we can design online systems that interact with people, without their knowledge that they are actually interacting with computers. These computers can then draw large datasets and analyse what information is required based on what the person is asking and deliver the right information to the user to meet the need expressed.

I see this applied in libraries in two ways:
1. virtual reference services
2. search of online catalogues

For virtual reference, instead of having a librarian, we can have an intelligent agent (or chatterbot) that can respond to the online user and guide the user based on what they ask to the right source online.

For the online catalogue search, we could design online systems that interprets what users put in the search box and retrieve the most relevant sources to the user query.

I already encounter these types of system through online systems that are designed to answer frequently asked questions. They have a database of questions and answers and are able to pull answers based on similarities between questions being asked to those that are already in their databases.