Archiv der Kategorie: emerging challenges

Researchers under general suspicion


Submissions automatically rejected by plagiarism software

Steve Gardner*, a renowned researcher at the University of Glasgow is rather upset: his pioneering research on avian lung viruses has been rejected by the Journal of Airway Obstruction because it has been given a „similarity score“ of 38% meaning that it is under severe suspicion of plagiarism.

Renaissance for plagiarism
At the moment, plagiarism is experiencing a renaissance, as an investigation in Science [1] proved. By using plagiarism detection software such as eTBLAST and the database of highly similar citations Déjà vu, the authors found 212 papers with suspected plagiarism, which were previously undetected. Plagiarism seems ubiquitous and dangerous. Not only to science itself, but to journals too. Journals fear their reputation will be damaged and therefore closely examine all submitted manuscripts – not for fraud (this is very difficult because it needs a lot of expert hours) but for plagiarism (this can be done automatically and gives you at least a good feeling). A look behind the scenes reveals that with the latter often the baby is thrown out with the bathwater.

Fear paralyzes
In our all-digital world, it has become easier to produce copies – but it has also become easier to look it up. Some plagiarism detection services are available to the public such as the above mentioned tools, but recently a number of commercial products have popped up too. To support their business they make claims such as they act „to ensure the originality of written work … [and to] help editors, authors and researchers to prevent misconduct“. Like the free tools, these commercial software products are based on huge data collections of journal articles, books and websites. And here it becomes really interesting, because – as we will see later – obviously not every product knows how to manage such heterogeneous collections. Maybe they should have hired a librarian…

How to cope?
Numerous journals and entire publishing groups such as Nature, Wiley and Elsevier make use of these commercial services – driven by the fear of plagiarism and COPE. COPE is short for Committee on Publication Ethics. COPE has 7000 members worldwide and provides advice to editors and publishers on all aspects of publication ethics and how to handle cases of misconduct. For this goal, COPE publishes the Code of Conduct and Best Practice Guidelines for Journal Editors [2], which recommends best practices to editors, such as „to having systems in place to detect plagiarized text either for routine use or when suspicions are raised“. As a result, more and more journals set automatic routines in place, checking each and any manuscript when submitted.

Obvious defectiveness
How do we know that this system is working properly? To be frank: we do not know. We simply cannot know, because no journal will tell us anything about this delicate task. If the journal detects plagiarism, it is an embarrassement for both the author as well for the journal. So every journal will blurt out their rejection rates but no one will tell how many of its authors are suspected of plagiarism. Despite this ignorance, we have learned from Steve Gardner. His painful experience of being rejected for nothing made him look for support at … surprise, surprise … the library.

A closer look into the result sheets of the similiarity check iThenticate [3], the plagiarism detection tool used by the Journal of Airway Obstruction, revealed three serious flaws in the librarian’s eye:

First, iThenticate screened Gardner’s manuscript against a databases of conference proceedings and found a suspiciously similar abstract: plagiarism alarm! Unfortunately the database was not properly indexed, so they totally missed the point: the abstract was from the very Steve Gardner himself, presenting the preliminary findings to his colleagues.
Second, furthermore expletives and standard phrases were regarded as plagiarism such as P <0.01, high-dose, ml/kg, etc. Even references to studies such as „data from the Avian Virus Outbreak Study (AVOS) show“ or manufacturer’s name such as „Fresenius Germany GmbH, Bad Homburg, Germany“ elevated the plagiarism score.
The third failure must be conferred to the journal’s editorial board, who based their rejection solely on the comparison of a piece of dull, hypersensitive software and did not control its output manually.

The system is broken
All three faults are somewhat unforgivable. Everybody should have red the Science paper mentioned above and know that plagiarism detection software fails: in 98% of all cases the results are false positive. And in betwen, the author is bestowed the awful suspicion of plagiarism. Nobody from the journal will tell him how to overcome this accusation. It is a serious indictment of the scientific publishing system, when its main pillar, the author, is left standing out in the rain so much. Once, researcher and publisher shared common goals and values. This close relationship is eroded, it has been eaten away at; it has become an interdependent on careers, profits, and suspicions.

The authors are cash cows**
Scientific journals are paralyzed by the fear of the fall from the grace in the science world through fraud and plagiarism in their articles and thereby damaging their reputation. As a consequence, they put all authors under suspicion and treat them as a kind of presumably guilty petitioners. Fear is a bad counselor; the researchers will remember any bad treatment and will look for ways out of the vicious circle of commercial publishing. The once symbiotic alliance between researchers and publishers is a discontinued model. Personally I doubt very much if a kind of publishing system has a future, where researchers are only regarded as a means to make money, as a cash cow.

* The name of the author and the journal was changed because the author asked to be incognito, which in itself throws an interesting light on the (im)balance of power in the publishing system.
** In business, a cash cow is a product or a business unit that generates unusually high profit margins: so high that it is responsible for a large amount of a company’s operating profit. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


  1. Long TC, Errami E, George AC, Sun Z, Garner HR. Scientific Integrity: Responding to Possible Plagiarism. Science. 2009 March 6;323:1293-1294

This article was published in the December issue 2012 of the JEAHIL.

Picture: (c) by jameek at

„The library is my Google“

A lesson in team-building and critical thinking

Are you the head of a library? Have you been trained in leadership? I studied for almost nine years, but there was no information on this subject – neither at the Biological Sciences Faculty or at the library school. All of a sudden I was Head of a faculty library with a staff of 12 people. Nobody told me how to motivate them, how to inspire them, how to convince them that I knew everything and that they should follow me without question. I tried to convince them using my knowledge, but nobody completely bought that. To my big surprise they did not blindly follow the ideas of this newbie, but were rather critical towards them – you cannot imagine my frustration! And that happened to almost all my ideas – even the most promising ones. So my way of becoming a leader was a stony path of trial and error and learning by doing. Yes, this takes years of experience and I am still learning. A bit more insight and training in leadership and team-building at the beginning would have been highly beneficial for both me and my staff. One thing is clear, I learnt that satisfied, thoughtful employees are crucial for providing high quality services, especially in this fast changing information environment and this is where good leadership is essential. As part of this journey, I decided to get some professional support to overhaul our services using a team approach. We were pleased to secure the expertise of an experienced knowledge and project manager for leading European academic libraries from Proud2Know (1) to lead the workshop. The staff of the Branch Library of Medicine, Munster (2) spent an entire day working intensively on ways and means to improve current library services, particularly focussing on how to better understand and meet the information needs of the over 1,200 faculty researchers and physicians.

The team as a strong unit

The workshop began with a team-building exercise, consisting of a game which identified staff strengths. This served to help empower each participant to engage in the process of change during the workshop. Two other measures were set in place to support that goal: first, all library staff members took part in the workshop to ensure that everyone could provide input, and second, the head of the library was generally banned from talking, apart from acting as a recorder of the events.

Learning from experience

The team began by working out what a typical working day of selected medical faculty looks like and where, over that day, the library currently offers its services. As preparation, the library had interviewed several researchers such as a pathologist and an orthodontist about their typical working day and presented the results to the group.

Strengths and weaknesses

Library staff then explored the current complete service offer, highlighting the library’s strengths and weaknesses based both on evidence from systematic evaluations and anecdotal feedback. For this purpose, each staff member wrote down the services he/she was involved in. All services were then mapped to a Venn diagram’s overlapping circles of 1) what was important to the researcher, 2) what the Library was good at and 3) what services were unique. It turned out, after some discussion, that most services were regarded both as important and good. Services which were important but not good were marked for improvement, such as the structure and content of the homepage. The accuracy and speed of the services were mentioned too. Literature searches were regarded as good but not important, because almost all researchers are performing these by themselves. Two services were regarded as unique: a fast document delivery service called RAPIDOC, and iPad lending.

The researcher’s viewpoint

A role-playing exercise closed the session on the current status of library services, with staff putting themselves in the researcher’s shoes to observe how they communicated, perceived and interacted with the current library services. Results from this session showed that researchers are unaware of some services such as E-Books, article delivery, and IT support. These were joined with other findings of the day as a basis for future improvement plans for the library. Pragmatic solutions to the questions raised came from all levels of the organization, which will help by feeding into plans for improvement. For example, better marketing, alerting services, lunch and learn sessions, and a library appliance for smartphones.

The library is my Google

Before future planning began, the team had a brainstorm session to develop a slogan to reflect what the library would like to be known as by its researchers in the future. Some of the statements thrown up were: “The Library is my personal literature adviser”, “The Library is absolutely indispensable” and “The Library is my Google”. A very positive outcome was the enthusiasm of the staff. Almost all regarded their job as highly valuable and the library as a real treasure for the faculty.

Onto the next level

The rest of the day was dedicated to building on the lessons learnt on the status quo of current research support services. Questions were raised such as What are our limits for satisfying the never ending demands of the researcher? As we have been educated as librarians not as physicians, can we provide medical information? Before discussing brand new services, and based on the earlier Venn diagram results, staff then voted for an existing service that could be terminated or at least reconsidered to make room for new services. Not surprisingly, almost everyone hesitated to cut services, especially the ones they provide themselves. New services mentioned ranged from a mobile lending unit, a wellness space with no access to phone lines and the internet, and subject specific alerting services.


To summarize, it was very beneficial for the library team to have the space and opportunity to share their opinions on how to improve library services without the librarian dominating the discussion. By the end of the day we were impressed by the amount of knowledge we held collectively and how much we had learnt about the researcher’s viewpoint. I believe the staff is now very much more motivated and excited about what is ahead and keen to take the library a step forward in future. As one staff member put it: Today brought new energy into the library. Let’s continue with it. We have since installed some internal task forces to take plans forward. We also plan to have such workshops on a regular basis. Fortunately, the Faculty is proud of the library and supports us on our journey ahead.



This article was published in the September issue 2012 of the JEAHIL.

Public Relations can really be so easy

Foto: Helmut Etzkorn / Münsterische Zeitung

Dear Librarians,

Public Relations can really be so easy. Nowadays we worry so much about public relations, but sometimes success comes unexpectedly and without advance strategical planning.

A brief history of mouse time

The story starts in the year 2011. Occasionally, there are mice seen in the library. They are tolerated as they are not harmful. Until one day, on New Year’s Day 2011, in the early morning, a disaster descended on the library: The alarm went off, warning that there was an intruder in the library. Immediately the clinic fire brigade crew and three (!) police patrol cars were on their way, with screeching tyres and wailing sirens. At the same time, the shrill tones of the telephone woke up the Director of the library. Half asleep, he received the message: Burglar in the Library! As he frantically dressed, thoughts flashed through his mind: “Is there really a burglar or has lightning triggered the alarm? Did he in fact leave a window open and maybe a bird flew in? Did the cleaning lady once again forget to turn off the alarm?” But a few minutes later the all-clear is given: a mouse has been identified as the culprit.

So far, so good. Here the story could have ended. No one would have heard anything more about the mouse. The library would have gone back to its everyday routine – many would have wished this. But not the library director: in his imagination, hordes of rodents were appearing, playing cat and mouse with the burglar alarm and getting him out of bed at all hours. He rightly was worried about his well-earned sleep. That was the top priority now! He presented his version of events (Google’s Translation) on the homepage of the library and threatened the demise of the mouse:

“The mouse will no longer be tolerated: the library as a rodent asylum is finished!”

And now the hunt was on – although initially only with live traps and chocolate cakes, but the exterminator had his rifle at the ready. The poor mouse became very anxious and feared for her life and wrote this in the news system Twitter. This triggered an avalanche of solidarity: by the Twitter news chain @v_i_o_l_a, @monasterium and @wwu_muenster. Then the local press heard about it and started its first reports. The hashtag #librarymouse was born. It brought the mouse (and the library) into the headlines of local newspapers. By now it had become daily news: three days after the alarm, a tubby mouse was trapped in the library’s kitchen. Fortunately, this was documented by a student: prime mouse portraits and mouse names were circulated on Facebook. The mouse was a „he“ and was given the name „Jerry“. When Jerry was released back into the wild safely, the press was jubilant. Finally, the mouse had an identity and pictures were taken out of our hands.

However, it turned out that Jerry was not the Library Mouse. Three clues suggested that: 1. Jerry was male, and the Library Mouse was female. 2. Jerry was caught in the small kitchen in the administration area, whereas the Library Mouse did mischief in the user area. 3. The Library Mouse had watched Jerry’s capture from a safe distance and commented on it on Twitter.

The press was very excited and already addicted to the mouse chase. The most important task assigned for the library director was now to inform the press in time when there were new images or captures. Then a television crew applied for an interview and we agreed to one on the 11th January. That same morning, two mice were caught in the trap and all phones began ringing like crazy: “Under no circumstances should the mouse be released; the TV team requires moving pictures!” The local press phoned to say it was on its way too, as fast as it could, but asked for our patience. The clinic’s PR was content with any pictures we get. The mouse, meanwhile, tweeted in real time out of the trap: „You have me. How could I be so stupid!” No sooner had her 80 followers on Twitter read this, they established a Facebook fan group “Free the Library Mouse in Münster”. Anxious minutes and hours passed by: what was the fate of the two mice?

The male mouse was released immediately: the press was only interested in the Twitter mouse. The female mouse had to still hold out a little longer and was fortified for the photo session, meanwhile, with tasty carrot shreds. But then it was all over: she performed very well in front of the cameras and was released under the watchful eyes of the TV crew. Everyone was by then sad, but the mouse was fine. Back in freedom she twittered gaily, „Yippee! I am free! At last!“ The next day dawned with big headlines in the local press, and a family-friendly, three minute report on TV.

What makes the mouse story a success?

As I said in the last issue: people love to be told stories. They do not necessarily have to be nice stories, but if there are nice (and mysterious) stories, that’s a great advantage. Three ingredients made this special story a newsworthy one: 1. the witty portrayal of the confrontation between the mouse and the library staging a David – Goliath relationship: the mouse had become the disadvantaged in an asymmetrical battle against a mighty and relentless enemy. 2. In a second – and even more brilliant – step, the victims‘ perspective was exploited by giving the mouse a public voice: “the mouse tweeted for her life„. Now the gentle readers had a tangible and audible counterpart, which made its identification and their compassion much easier. 3. from the very beginning, there was a mystery about the whole case. Not knowing who was behind the Twitter account @LibraryMouse, was fascinating, even adventurous. Was it the friendly man at the lending desk wearing the mice shirt? Or was it a medical student who just saw a media opportunity? Or was it even an animal rights activist? In the end no one was sure who it was, perhaps it was the mouse itself… ?

Public relations, which focuses on the dynamics of social networks is often referred to as viral marketing. VM can begin with very little, such as a small report on the homepage, and expand rapidly – without any reason – to a real press tsunami, that strikes you and leaves you quite passive. Press and television will stop at nothing to get such “human interest stories”and are more than happy to spin sequels (and the press officer of the library becomes somewhat redundant). The so called silly season is ideal for spreading of such news.

The moral of the story

The library can breathe again. A media invasion can be quite exhausting without a Press Officer who governs everything. But, could a press officer have even made even more out of this? He could have invited even more newspapers and TV stations, or asked all citizens of Münster to take a vote on a name for the mouse, or sell T-shirts with “Save the Library Mouse”, or continue to spin the story further again: the Library Mouse found a family with Jerry, they had children, reoccupied the library, and tweeted about everything in abundance – the possibilities are beyond imagination.

But how can we evaluate this return on investment? Does it give the library what they want? Has the library benefited long term from this event? Some readers may have thought: Doesn’t the library have anything better to do?” or “The mice may transmit many diseases” or “The library should be in the news for their user services, not because of something like this!” Indeed, one reporter even apologized that he did not come to report on our reader services, but came only for the mouse story as user services were just not interesting for them. But … in the midst of the mouse hype … a reporter did accidentally discover our iPad rental service and encouraged a colleague to write about it. We were interviewed and an informed report appeared the next day with a circulation of 220,000 issues. This was one of the rare cases in which lead was turned into gold.

But for the time being we are satisfied with the hype it caused. Because of the mouse, we are now much better known and linked in the media landscape. Press editors became fans of our Facebook page and pursue our messages now directly. It seems more likely that they will write something about us again, even if it is not about the mouse.

You will find all links at

This article was published in the March issue 2012 of the JEAHIL.

Humour and Clowns in the Library

The Web enables access to the resources of a library for doctors and students from anywhere but the library. As a result, libraries are closing their doors. [1] The weakening connection between librarians and users is currently the great challenge of our profession. Frequently, libraries try to strengthen the connection by promoting feel-good factors such as providing food & beverage, nice furniture, architecture & facilities, and a good atmosphere. Sound and positive relationships with users are not only build by harmonious environments in which students feel comfortable, but also by emotional competent librarians, who accompany students from enrolment to exam. The connection can be maintained and improved by various means such as joint task forces, focus groups, library instruction via working lunches (or coffee & cakes), walking around, be open-minded for conversations, be present in social networks, and not only supporting users at study related problems, but also in a holistic way. As a result, students will feel themselves valued – not just as a user or customer, but as human beings.

Humour is both, a catalyst and an indicator for healthy, lively, and enjoyable relationships. In the following I would like to show, that by integrating humour into the library, the connection between librarians and users could become not only light-hearted but also highly rewarding.
There are many articles about the benefits of being humourous in library instruction courses, and even one which made it into PubMed [2]. In 2006, Walker gave an good overview of the topic, [3] and Trefts & Blakeslee delighted the reader by their increasing efforts to become funnier. Here is their motivation for using comedy in the classroom:

Most instruction librarians know that library instruction can often be boring to teach, and boring for students, but we also know the value of library instruction and its importance to our students. So what innovative approaches can we take to spice up our instruction and make the topic more appealing? The authors decided that using humor was the best approach. [4]

They learned about comedy, they became funnier, and incorporated it sucessfully into their library instruction. Many teachers will agree, that fun is as important for learning success as content: „If your students not having fun getting better, they’re not keeping it doing.“ [5]

One excellent way of bringing humour to the library is the clown. In hospitals, “clinic clowns” or “doctor clowns” are well known for delivering “clown care”. As successors of Patch Adams they bring joy and laughter to small patients (but also to the elderly). Dr. Jerko (aka Bowen F. White) provides an insight on his work:

The Clown creates an environment for people that it is save to laugh and have fun and [as a results] they drop their defences. We don’t educate students in ways that are playful. We tend to not honour as a value for adults. When we’re valuing playing more, then […] we paying attention in new ways with beginners‘ minds, and see options and possibilities. To be playful, to game is a way to connect to people more fully, in a holistic approach. That’s make you feeling more fully alive, and a dull frontal presentation becomes a lively performance. [5]

The clown is capable of giving important impulses and acting as an icebreaker. Playing games is an important method for knowledge transfer in the educational process and can be used by anyone. Especially interesting is the absence of a hierarchy between the players:

The mother is doing stuff the kids can’t quite do by themselves, but the mother isn’t thinking ‚Oh, the kid can’t do it.‘ Instead, they’re playing a game together. And out of that game the kid gets exposed to stuff from which it can learn. [6]

The playful manner of the clown and his inborn neglect of any hierarchy makes him perfectly suitable for any educational purpose. In the library, he has the great advantage: he is definitely not a librarian. He stands outside the hierarchy of knowledge and saying “Ssshhhh…” He has a red nose, and with a magical smile he conjures the anxiety away, which prevents many students from connecting with librarians. [7] Overall, the clown brings a new quality into the relationship between the user and the library.

Recently, at the medical library in Münster, Germany, a librarian dressed up as a clown interacted with students. He walked around, sat with the students and asked them which beautiful books they were reading and for what purpose. And what actually were they doing. Studying? He suggested that it looked more as if they were lazing around… 🙂

The library clown also handed the students sweets and roses, and some even returned his kindness with their own sweets. Within 1½ hours, the clown had had some 40 interactions, through which he obtained a detailed overview what exactly the students were doing, if they were satisfied with the library, and last but not least about their sense of humour.

Usually clowns perform as duos, in which one acts as the “Auguste” or “Redface”, while the other is the “Joey” or “Whiteface” character. Redface has good intentions and is good-natured, but foolish (but he thinks he is highly knowledgable). He is naïve, like a child and as curious as one. On the contrary, Whiteface is quite normal; he acts as the watchdog, and tries to prevent Redface from making mistakes (if he is not too angry with him) – similiar to Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, who acted that scenario to perfection. The library clown, acting as Redface, had a nice play with the students, which behaved quite normal. This character is perfectly suited for the study of information needs and satisfaction rates, because Redface is not only interested in everything but he is also very much welcomed by anybody to be curious and ask ‘stupid’ questions. [8]

The clown not only examine needs or delivers a course, but he tells a story. His costume and his makeup is already a story in itself and tells much about him. People love that, they pay attention and memorize better, what he is telling – a perfect premise for successful connecting with customers.

People love to be told stories. They don’t necessarily have to be nice stories, but they must be memorable. Whether you’re babysitting kids or closing a big deal [or explaining PubMed limits!], telling a story that’ll stick with your audience is the key: a story is a soft shell that seals in the facts and livens up hard data. [9]

Humour makes things easier in the workplace, as has been proven several times in libraries. Some may act as a clown even if they do not want to admit it [10]. And yet the obvious idea of a clown, who acts as a catalyst for customer relationships, is quite new in the field of librarianship. Nevertheless, as shown above, the library clown can improve many areas such as marketing, needs assessment, contacts and customer relationships, and avoiding clichés. Because the clown is not afraid to fail, he helps us to be brave and overcome our anxiety. Like Mevlana Rumi said: „Start a huge, foolish project, like Noah… it makes absolutely no difference what people think of you.“ To be a clown once in a while, prepares us to take risks, to be experimental and creative, and as such to live more fully, and eventually make work more rewarding. Remember: „Everybody is a clown, but only a few have the courage to show it.“ (Charlie Rivel)


  1. Kelley, Michael (2011): Major Medical Library Closing Its Doors to Patrons and Moving to Digital Model. In: The Digital Shift 27.10.2011.
  2. Maggio, LA et al (2009): A case study: using social tagging to engage students in learning Medical Subject Headings. J Med Libr Assoc. 97(2) 77-83
  3. Walker, Billie E. (2006): Using humor in library instruction. Reference Services Review 34(1) 117-128
  4. Trefts, Kristin; Blakeslee, Sarah (2000): Did you hear the one about the Boolean operators? Incorporating comedy into library instruction. Reference Services Review 28(4) 369-378
  5. a) Bowen F. White (2000): Why Normal Isn’t Healthy: How to Find Heart, Meaning, Passion, and Humor on the Road Most Traveled. Center City: Hazelden
    b) Bowen F. White (2000): Bowen White in El Salvador
  6. Brooks, Rodney (2002): Flesh and Machines: How Robots Will Change Us. New York: Patheon
  7. Mellon, C.A. (1986): Library anxiety: a grounded theory and its development. College and Research Libraries, 47(2) 160-5
  8. Obst, Oliver: Was macht ein Clown in der Bibliothek? Aktuelles 4.3.2011
  9. Torley: Life Lessons You Can Learn From The Joker. In: Stepcase Lifehack 31.7.2008
  10. Schott, Michael J. (2008): A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Library: 20 Years of (Mostly) Humor in Medical Libraries. Journal of Hospital Librarianship 8(2) 230-236

This article was published in the November issue 2011 of the JEAHIL.

Sex, Jogging and the iPad: Lost in distraction

Electronic book reader laying outdoors

I have to confess. Seriously. I have to confess you about my working habits. My working habits are a great challenge for me (and my boss) because I am not working, instead “I am actually distracting myself from work. I notice these days that I can spend hours at my computer, in a cloud. A swampy blur of digital activity, smeared across various activities and media and software. Emailing, writing, tweeting, designing, browsing, taking calls, Skyping, Facebooking, RSS Feeding – all blurred into a single technological trance. I seem to switch randomly from one to the other.” [1]

The Swiss physicist and philosopher Eduard Kaeser explains this habit with an example by himself: “Multitasking. We are hardly in the Web; the temptation is stirring to do just not what you have to do. We are browsing, blogging, chatting, googling, texting, twittering as the persecuted. I saw it the other day, ironically, by writing this text. I did what tens of millions of desktop-workers do today. I googled for a small article about multitasking, thereby discovered three other relevant articles that interested me. While printing them, I checked my e-mails en passant, glanced at the website of the „New York Book Review“ and stucked on an essay by Amartya Sen on an entirely different issue. The running jazz program on the radio presented simultaneously an interesting Italian pianist, whom I liked so much, that I looked him up at iTunes, found various pieces of him, bought them immediately, downloaded them and burned them onto a CD. Rather than continue working on the article, I began to hear the music, not without telling me at the same time on the website of the pianist about his biography and discography. Before I knew it myself, my main attention was scattered on two or three adjacent lanes. I was not able to gain back my concentration on the original work. I call this ‘Cogitus interruptus’.” [2]

McCandless hits the nail on the head: This habit is fancy, addicted, devastating. I could not describe it better.

Is there a remedy for us hypersurf lunatics? Kaeser recommends two agents, unfortunately both not much appropriate in library settings: sex and jogging. But there is a third agent, even better: The iPad. And it’s perfect for the office! I actually managed to read Kaeser’s pretty long text in one piece without interruption and distractions on the iPad! That speaks well for the author but even more for the device. Due to the singularity of the applications and open windows, the iPad/iPhone (much like the printed book) creates an almost distraction-free interface, a space with a single focus. [3]

In order not to get “lost in distraction”, I need a lot of motivation. The best motivation for me are deadlines. I would never finish this column without strong deadlines. As a friend of mine used to say: “You have to create constraints for yourself” …

[1] David McCandless “The hierarchy of digital distractions” Information is beautiful 8.9.2009
[2] Eduard Kaeser “Cogitus interruptus: Googeln, Bloggen und Twittern“ NZZ am Sonntag, 31.5.2009
[3] Adam Hodgkin: “Why the iPhone is a better Reading Environment I” Exact Editions 8.5.2009

This article was published in the September issue 2011 of the JEAHIL.

Foto: © andreykr by

There’s an -oodle for that …

In January, we had to elect new EAHIL councilors for Germany. We examined the possibility to vote by email, but what a hassle of to- and for-ing and counting emails this would have been! By chance I had used Doodle [1] a lot in the last months for scheduling meetings and found this web tool very helpful. It is straight forward, easy to use, and registration-free. I was surprised to learn that Doodle offers also voting, named “Make a choice”. After some trial and error we set up an election site with hidden and one-time-only voting. It made the election process an easy and playful experience. It’s not an exaggeration: in social networking, everything is like that. No matter what your task or demand is: on the Internet is a (free) service can be found for it! In the following I will point out some of them, which may be useful for your library. I will omit the most obvious ones such as free blogs, bookmarks, or wikis, because I had described them already in detail in former columns.

Make PDFs from your documents and publish them on Scribd [2] “so others can read them online or download them. It’s also a great place to find articles and papers written by others.” [3] Upload your PDF on Issuu [4], they will convert it to a high quality output with animated pages. Let them do the usage statistics for you as well.

Are you looking for a place to publish your PowerPoint slides? The default is SlideShare [5], where there are literally tons of presentations. It offers not only storage capacity, but you can share, comment and follow the presentations of hundreds of people as well. You may even add a recording of your speech and customize it, so that the slides change in accordance with your speech.

At Google documents, you can store, edit and share almost anything, from PDF and text files to spreadsheets to drawings or presentations. But Google is a big brother and you never know what they do with your data. Google documents may not be evil on their own, but in combination with Google Mail, Google search, and their other services, they can know you better than yourself. So maybe it is wise to use others services such as DivShare or myDrive [6].

When it comes to paper, presentations and citations, you need bibliographic software too. The former killer appliances such as Endnote or Reference Manager have gotten very strong (and free) web competitors such as Citavi, CiteULike, LibraryThing, Mendeley, or Zotero. [7] These offer almost all features of commercial bibliographic managers, and may even exceed them with services such as metadata extraction from PDF (Mendeley).

Web Conferencing
You are working with someone on a shared document? Put it on Google documents and discuss it side by side with a Skype “group conversation”. Or use Elluminate (ex-Wimba) [8] and start in 50 seconds your own online classroom (free for up to three people). WebEx from Cisco is a wide spread commercial web conferencing tool offering free trials. [9]

Cloud Computing
Google documents, SlideShare, Flickr and a lot of the other mentioned services make use of cloud computing to offer file sharing, but in the following I would like to address some specialized tools which act as your remote hard disk. The most used is obviously Dropbox [10]. It comes for free and offers a data plan of 2 Gigabytes (50 GB for $ 99 a year), which you can upload on there servers and share with anybody (including your iPhone or iPad of course). SugarSync offers 5 GB for free (30 GB for $ 50 a year) and offers more privacy [11], a least in the “terms of service”, than Dropbox. [12] Frequently, smartphone apps are accustomed to use Dropbox, SugarSync or Boxnet [13] as file folders.

What you do, if your Professor of Sports Medicine requests an RSS feed from you, which should alerts him on scientific papers as well current news items for “Sports and COPD”, “Exercise and Elderly” and so on? Just go to Yahoo Pipes [14], where you can embed, filter, merge, and manipulate feeds from PubMed, SportDiscus or Reuters Health in a variety of ways. If you want only to merge some feeds or put them on the Web, Google reader [15] or Feed Informer [16] may do the job quite well too.

There are many, many web tools targeted to doctors or patients. AIRO is a system for clinics / hospitals / medical centers to record incidents, problems, and changes [17]. For patients, there comes Mentaline, a booking system for online therapy or coaching sessions with +275 coaches, psychologists, psychotherapists and other therapists – you can choose between audio/video through Skype and phone sessions [18]. Or ReliefInsite, a secure online pain management system, for helping patients “take a more active role in their health” and better communicate with their doctors. [19] Slogan: “Tracking your pain is one of the best things you can do to treat it.” Patient record management systems (much needed and much offered) are usually subscription based.

Some more tools

  • is a free mind mapping tool on the web;
  • is for animated, breathtaking presentations;
  • is for creating comprehensive worlds of information, updated automatically;
  • offers little html snippets, which will tell you how much your web site is used (Google analytics is better, but in some countries it is illegal to collect personal information. And see above: “Google is not evil”);
  • Host discussion groups on;
  • Publish surveys and analyze answers with (coming with basic services for free and subscription plans for bigger surveys with more options);
  • for online project management and collaboration. I tried it not by myself, but there is certainly a big need for that;
  • Lobbying for your library? Use for collecting votes against the closure of your library.

If this short but not comprehensive list did not suit your demands and you are still seeking something, I can recommend two especially valuable directories:

Top 100 Tools for Learning 2010 List
Compiled since 2007, the recent list derives from the contributions of 545 learning professionals worldwide [20]. Among the top 10 you will find pretty much every tool that I described in past issues. Moodle, a prominent course management system, comes in at rank 10.

Webtools Directory of the UK National Health System
The NHS Web Tools [21] „is showing you, what’s out there. As the Web changes fast these days, it’s hard for busy NHS managers and clinicians to keep track of what’s out there. NHS Web Tools is for helping this special clientele by selecting and annotating useful web tools.”


3. Carol Skyring in [2]

iPad lending project: First Results

Foto: pixelio / ULB Münster

In the last issue I mentioned the plans of my library to lend out iPads “preloaded with a pleopthera of learning tools”. Now I would like to share our first experiences with you (because I know that many of you are curious about the project and its outcome). [See Footnote 10 for other libraries lending out iPads]

Back to the future
We may laugh at the hype about the iPad [1], but tomorrow’s world is just not imaginable without ubiquitous and comfortable access to the Internet and sophisticated applications, which not only facilitate our life but have become a part of it. The iPad is not the absolutely perfect device, but it is a significant step towards one. A successor or competitor with half the size and double the power may come close to the magical capabilities of the all-knowing personal librarian “Mister D.”, which Morgan had described in a visionary essay [2].

When I first heard the rumour about this new gadget from Apple, I was not only fascinated but electrified by the news of a tablet PC with that extraordinary features. Such a gadget could completely change the way we handle information, the methodology of reading books, and how we consume other media! The iPad may well foster the transition from a printed to a digital learning environment and if so will have a great impact on libraries.

Back to practice
With my naïve enthusiasm, I applied for 24 iPads from tuition fees, but was turned down – fortunately (obviously we could not handle that much at that time). After some phone calls, three iPads were sponsored to start with. In August, we began lending them out for a period of one week to researchers and physicians.

With the iPad, it’s pretty much the same as lending out Personal Digital Assistants (PDA). [3] The devices are lent out and withdrawn by a single, appointed staff member, and the lender has to sign a loan contract in advance. [4] In the beginning, only faculty members, not students, were allowed to put their hand on an iPad.

Lending is a great way to whet the appetite for a new way of using library resources. Our underlying strategy works like this: “the library will bring the user to the iPad and the iPad will bring the user to the library.” Let me explain this in a little bit more detail:

The core of building sustainable customer relationships is to tie the clients in some way to the library. Usually this will be achieved be a good book collection, kind and supportive staff, expertise in searching, etc. In the web 2.0 age this is backed up by promoting services via interactive social media such as Twitter. Another way to attract users is by lending out cool gadgets such as Personal Digital Assistants. But essential for the success of such a service is that the library not only lend out these things, but also provides users with applications and build an expertise around this devices with the result, that the users will always turn to the library for support, new apps, etc. Our PDA project from 2004 to 2008 proved this: the lending part was not our greatest success but in fact the support part of the project was, where we distributed an impressive number of 1,013 apps to 382 clients. I think the iPad project will evolve in similar ways.

What will be our next steps?

  1. Lending iPads to students too, but in a slightly different approach, only for one day, like they use a reference book of the non-lending collection. (Librarians do not like to take risks and one never knows how students will handle “iPads to go”). Our slogan will be: “if this printed book is not available at the moment, you can use it on this iPad.” Once they use an iPad, they will notice these wonderful interactice multimedia apps for anatomy or pharmacology or whatever. As a great media device, the iPad is a perfect companion for the great content libraries have to offer. This combination is supposed to do an excellent job helping students to pass their exams. For this purpose 15 additional iPads will be provided.
  2. We shall build a strong base of support for the growing iPad community in our faculty, including newsfeeds of new iPad apps [5], classification of apps according to the NLM [6], promotion of apps at our library blog, writing wiki entries on how to make the most out of your iPad, etc.
  3. A group of iPad faculty members has been founded, which work professionally with iPads, and which lend iPads to students, patients, physicians. There are 35 iPads in use for endodontic learning classes, 18 in the library, 15 in the study hospital, and some more for patients to fill out questionnaires. This iPad group is especially useful for getting first hand information, support, and knowledge. It enhanced significantly the library’s embedding and networking within the faculty.

Preliminary results
We had a wonderful start in the first 2 months with people virtually jumping on iPads as bears to honey and the feedback has been remarkably positive [7]. All users were clinicians; departments ranging from cardiology, ethics, gynecology, neurosurgery, to pediatrics. Among them were the usual “early adopters” but also newbies. All in all there were quite technophile as more than 80% had smartphones or PDAs already. The service was propagated by word of mouth very well: anybody using this gadget was asked: “Where did you get that from?”

For about 60% of the lenders, iPads proved to be very useful, but for 40% not at all. The reasons why the iPad did not stand the test for almost half of the lenders has to be examined in detail. The lenders used the iPad and its apps for a great variety of purposes: most often E-Books were used, followed by literature search, literature management, lectures, lecture videos, and games. Patient education, diagnostics, or music were not used so often and podcasts or movies rarely.

Magazines and journals, such as Macworld, MedPage, Nature News, NEJM, and PLoS were used more often than communication tools such as newsreader, social networks, and chat apps. Half of the lenders used E-book-reader such as GoodReader or iBooks quite frequently, while the other half did not use them at all. Lecture videos from iTunes University, which we had synced with the iPads, were used only a few times.

From the 75 medical apps preinstalled on the iPads, the well-known literature management app Papers was the most used one, followed by UpToDate (as a app-icon on the home screen), German pharmacopeiae, The Elements, DDx Differentials, PediSafe, and ColorTest.

Overall, more than 80% were satisfied or very satisfied with the opportunity of lending an iPad at the library.

Providing mobile access to library resources is a top trend in academic libraries [8]. Mobile phones are the communications technology of the future [9]. Digital natives expect every information (and person) to be immediately available, e.g. mobile. The iPad is an important step in the direction of an all-mobile world. By lending out iPads, the library can increase their reputation and networking among faculties and clinics. This is an invaluable and easy to achieve opportunity. Building a solid base of expertise around this cool gadget will put a “coolness factor” on the library itself and make it a light house. Hi-tech users accept librarians as peers on the same level and our participation in pioneering projects, such as e-lecturing with iPads or accessing electronic patient records on iPads, has been highly appreciated.

This article was published in the November issue 2010.

Foot Notes
1. Facebook VP Christopher Cox: “We laughed at every new technology because we are grounded in the perspective of the media we use today.” in Ryan Singel: Silicon Valley Lacks Vision? Facebook Begs to Differ. Wired 8.10.2010
2. Eric Lease Morgan: “A Day in the Life of Mr. D” In: Thinking Robots, an Aware Internet, and Cyberpunk Librarians, The 1992 LITA President’s Program Presentations by Hans Moravec, Bruce Sterling, and David Brin. Chicago 1992.
3. O.Obst: “Evaluation of the PDA-project at the Branch Library Medicine at Münster” GMS Medizin — Bibliothek — Information 2008;8(2):Doc16 and Wissens-Wiki: PDA Projekt:
5. You find new apps at
8. ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee: „2010 top ten trends in academic libraries: A review of the current literature” Coll Res Libr News 71(6):286-292 (2010)
9. Helen Blowers: “Reality Check 2010: 5 Trands [sic] Shaping Libraries”

Things worth to know [not in the printed issue]

PS: iPads on loan are easily trackable with MobileMe now iCloud, provided the user didn’t delete the respective Account in the iPad settings.

iPad and text books

iPad and text books

As I promised in the last issue, I thought about a new column title and finally decided on Emerging Challenges (Emerging Technologies is already taken 🙂 ). It will widen the coverage of this column to include all items which challenge me and other librarians in both our daily and future life, such as the mobile library, electronic media, future of reading, and social media (TTFKAW) of course (1).

Electronic books have gained in popularity, as evidenced by the latest figures from Amazon. It sold 180 e-books for every 100 hardcovers, and three times as many e-books in the first six months of this year as it did in the first half of 2009 (2). Although it is likely that these were only fiction books, the sheer dominance of digital is surprising. Will this development also penetrate the textbook market? What is their future?

A recent survey of 5.360 library users in Bavarian universities evidenced that half of the students have no clear preference for printed books any more, and 37% of participants could well do without the printed textbook, if an e-book was available (3). The UK National E-Books Observatory Project came to similar conclusions ― as almost every study in the last years (4). That could well be the beginning of the end of the printed textbook as we know it. Libraries are very concerned with these developments, because the printed textbook is one of their main attractions. For decades, acquiring copies of top textbooks and lending them out to students was both a rewarding service and a successful business model. Now libraries are struggling to find new strategies for the coming „age of the e-textbook“, which is mainly determined by the following three factors:

1. New business models
Decan Butler from Nature (5) compares the future development of textbooks with the music industry, which dramatically changed because “they relied on selling content on a physical medium, such as the CD.” In the same way, better e-bookreaders “could similarly disrupt the textbook industry.” Like the music industry, textbook publishers fear cannibalism (e-textbooks will undermine sales of hardcovers) and piracy (e-textbooks will be distributed for free on file sharing platforms). For only two reasons they are willing to go ahead: (a) “e-textbooks may offer them a way to cut into the largest threat to their profits: the huge market for second-hand text books,” and (b) if they do not put their foot into this new niche, the other publishers will divide the market under themselves.

One of the companies which may revolutionize the way of selling textbooks is CourseSmart, a coalition of 15 major textbook publishers (6). It offers more than 12.000 textbooks for up to 50% of the price of the printed counterparts. However, the discount comes with some major limitations: CourseSmart’s digital rights management (DRM) forbids students from moving a book downloaded on one computer to another device, and cuts printing at 10 pages. E-textbooks usually ‚expire‘ after their course has ended. Nevertheless, according to a study from the Northwest Missouri State University (NMSU), students like CourseSmart quite a lot, not because of the format or the DRM, but because it saves them money (7).

And even more surprising business modell is that of Flat World Knowledge, a New York based company, which creates electronic textbooks and distribute them freely. Their library friendly motto is: “Cheap prices are the most effective digital rights management.” [7b]

2. New content – customizable textbooks
Even if the content of the „new“ e-textbooks may not change at all, the composition of the content will change and allow for much more flexibility and customization, interactivity features, multimedia, and personalization. “E-textbooks as we currently know them will look drastically different five years from now” (8).

Macmillan, one of the five largest publishers of trade books and textbooks in the United States, launched the product (“the new generation of interactive textbooks”), which allows college instructors “to edit digital editions of textbooks and customize them for their individual classes. Professors will be able to reorganize or delete chapters; upload course syllabuses, notes, videos, pictures and graphs; and perhaps most notably, rewrite or delete individual paragraphs, equations or illustrations” (9). These „Living Documents“ are embedded in a community and will be commented by the community – a changing document, whose data is constantly remixed and reused.

3. New e-reader: the iPad
In 2009, everyone was racing to be the ultimate multi-function device: a convergent evolution among e-readers, laptops, portable music players and smart phones. Now it seems the race is over. As always, Apple has taken the lead with the iPad whose charming playfulness makes it a great learning environment. The operation by gestures is obviously a very human attitude: to understand something by touching it. There is much potential in the iPad for enhancing students‘ learning experiences and being part of the next evolutionary step for textbooks. What device the iPad will replace? Gerry McKiernan and CourseSmart sum it up perfectly: “the iPad makes a lousy computer replacement, but does a great job of replacing paper” (10) and “for college students, the answer might just be that the “device” the iPad replaces is the printed textbook” (11). Consequently, CourseSmart recently launched an iPad application for reading textbooks (12).

Since the end of June, an iPad has been in everyday use at my own library. It has proved highly efficient for information presentation at a workshop. It is a mobile device for convenient and playful use of information of any kind. And it is precisely this very combination, mobile, comfortable, playful etc. that explains its great advantages over the alternatives: Smartphone, laptop, EeePC, Kindle (13).

I can also imagine the iPad being used very well in hospital wards, in presentations or in team meetings as a multimedia information machine, loaded with e-books, reading lists, pharmacopoeias, lecture recordings, videos of procedures (via iTunes U), e-learning tools, patient education tools etc. The Branch Library of Medicine at Munster are already lending out iPads preloaded with a pleopthera of respective learning tools, among them textbooks of course. The next step is just on the horizon: to embed this systematically and intelligently into the learning environment of the students, and merge it with the local curriculum. Here is the very place and time, where the librarian’s expertise will be in demand.

1. The Tools Formerly Known As Web2.0 😉
2. Dylan F. Tweney: “Amazon sells more E-Books than Hardcovers” Wired 19.07.2010
3. Leo Matschkal: E-Books – Elektronische Bücher: Nutzung und Akzeptanz – Umfrage an bayerischen wissenschaftlichen Bibliotheken. BIT Online 2009;12(4):
4. “JISC national e-books observatory project: Key findings and recommendations”
5. Decan Butler: Technology: The textbook of the future Nature News 04/01/2009
6. Among them Elsevier, McGraw Hill, Pearson, Sage, Taylor & Francis, Wiley, Wolters Kluwer Health.
7. Jon T. Rickman, Roger Von Holzen, Paul G. Klute, and Teri Tobin: A Campus-Wide E-Textbook Initiative Educause quarterly 32(2):2009
7b. John L. Hilton III, David A. Wiley: „A sustainable future for open textbooks? The Flat World Knowledge story“ First Monday, Volume 15, Number 8 – 2 August 2010
8. Paul Klute from NMSU in Decan Butler, Nature News 2009
9 .Motoko Rich. Textbooks That Professors Can Rewrite Digitally New York Times 21.2.2010
11. CSAdmin: What will the iPad replace on campus? Let’s do the maths. CourseSmart Blog, 28.01.2010,
12. CSAdmin eTextbooks for the iPad now live! CourseSmart Blog 11.04.2010
13. Whose slogan, „Easy • Excellent • Exciting“ it in fact implemented.

The Iphonization of Social Networking

The iPhone is the most important computer I have ever had – second only to my first office computer in 1993. Back then on a Friday afternoon in the beginning of the World Wide Web, I installed the program Nupop on my PC. Nupop opened an universe absolutely new to me – the universe of discussion groups by E-Mail and Usenet. I found myself quickly immersed into hundred thousands of newsgroups and mailing lists and enthusiastically subscribed to some twenty of them. After a quite weekend, I unsuspectingly opened my mail box … and suddenly my smile froze: “Cling, clong, cling, you have 713 messages!” It took me a day to wade through them (I red all of them) but, for the first time, I had the feeling of being connected with the whole world – or at least the whole library world.

Whereas the desktop computer connected me with the world, the iPhone connected the world with me. Let me explain this strange statement: Today, the Web 2.0 comes with sophisticated tools and great omnipresence, but – in a nutshell – added nothing to this 93’ feeling, at least not for me. That changed completely when I bought an iPhone one and a half year ago. Looking up information or doing networking on my iPhone gave me a second “aha-experience”: Now everything was nearby (in the pocket), and it was available wherever I was and whenever I wanted! No idea has to be put off to a later date, no question remained unanswered, there was no undiscovered curiosity and no longing unquenched. (By the way: that is exactly what the new generation of library users expects from us.)

iPhone Applications (Apps)
I don’t know if you are familiar with the iPhone and its Applications? iPhone Apps turn the iPhone into a sound studio, into a glass of beer, into a game, into a car navigation. There are 120.000 Apps in the iTunes shop, which have been altogether installed more than 1 billion times in the last two years. A study reported that most people use their Apps only once, but I don’t believe that. I installed some 60 Apps and use them regularly and frequently (some are only nice gimmicks for posing). Equipped with Internet, Apps, and GPS, the iPhone is a perfect substitute for my laptop. You can take the whole world of information with you, and the whole social network too [1]. Which Apps are especially useful and noteworthy?

My favourite iPhone App is NewsRack [2]. NewsRack is a sophisticated RSS-Feed Reader and serves as my information centre (as every information is RSS-able today). It shows all the news feeds from my beloved blogs, newspapers, TV stations, announcements of our clinic, and so on. It can be synchronized with your Google Reader subscriptions and – most important – it permits the forwarding of interesting news items to Web 2.0 services such as Twitter and Delicious. You may know that in an interactive environment, reading is not enough; you have to be able to share the information as well – comparable with the snap of one’s fingers. The second great advantage of the iPhone / RSS couple: I can read the news wherever I want and whenever I have the time to – usually not on the job. NewsRack is a bargain at 3,99 Euro.
There are numerous RSS reader Apps for the iPhone, many for free. You may like to test some of them as well.

Although you can read Twitter messages by NewsRack too, I strongly recommend installing one of the many Twitter Apps to get the full advantage of the Twitter interactivity of retweeting, replying, and direct messaging. Twittelator Pro [3] is one of the most powerful ones and it makes a lot of fun playing with its many features. I have had good experiences too with TweetDeck (there is also a free desktop version) and Echofon (formerly Twitterfon), but Twittelator is my one and only (but with Apps, you’re always spoilt for choice). On Twitter I follow 99 people [4], which is way too much, because some of them post hundreds of tweets a week. So I found myself quickly overwhelmed by over 400 tweets a day – in addition to the 100 news items on NewsRack. (One of the next issues will answer the question if you could omit Twitter or RSS.) Twittelator allows easy retweeting, replying, direct messaging, following, unfollowing, searching, and whatsoever – 3,99 Euro.


Skype is yet another powerful social networking thingy, it allows you to keep contact, chat, and phone all around the world for free or small money. In addition, my library is using Skype for communicating with our users – free.

iBlogger allows editing and writing of blog entries on the road. Embedding of pictures is easy and straight forward. If you want to add a picture to your post, just make it with the built-in iPhone camera – 7,99 Euro. There is also a free WordPress App for editing WordPress blogs, but unfortunately it has problems connecting to blogs not hosted at

Social Network Portals
In the meantime, every social network community or shop has an iPhone application – it’s like a scourge. Facebook, StudiVZ (the German Facebook), MySpace, eBay, Amazon, each and every network offers its dedicated client. There are also some social networks built specifically for the iPhone such as iRovr and iPHONEcolony, but I have not used them and I do not think they could compete with the above mentioned “standard” networks. A more detailed (but now a little out of date) comparison of 13 iPhone Apps for communities was done by Adam Hirsch in the blog Mashable [5].

Flickr and Delicious
Of course, these two dinosaurs of the Web 2.0 do also have their respective iPhone Apps. At the iTunes store you can find at least a two dozens of Apps for both the photo sharing site Flickr and the bookmark sharing site Delicious. Free as well as paid Apps let you do almost anything, what you can imagine, including basic stuff such as browsing photos/bookmarks, uploading photos/ bookmarks from the iPhone, and of course sharing photos/bookmarks. More Apps for managing bookmarks are annotated at the German iPhone Blog [6]. One feature especially nice to mention: due to geotagging, some Apps [7] are even capable to show you photos made at your very location (Fig. 8). In one of the next issues location based services will be covered in depth – there are one major advantage of smartphones.

Networking On-The-Go
An German blogger puts the Iphonization into a nut shell [8]: “meanwhile, the iPhone is quite good integrated in my daily routine. Thanks to some good Apps much has shifted to the iPhone and is used in public transport in the previously unproductive minutes. Besides Twitter, I do not use hardly any social networks regularly on the desktop any more. The result: in the office there is more time for real work and the flow. In fact, the iPhone has not discouraged me from work, but quite definitely reduces distractions.“
But beware: you don’t have to run to the next Apple shop buying iPhones! Almost every major phone manufacturer offers devices with similar if not identical applications. Look for Google Nexus, LG eXpo, Nokia N900, Sony Ericsson Xperia, or Blackberry Storm, to name just a few.

After 13 issues dedicated to Web 2.0 only, I would like to widen the coverage of this column to include other interesting things such as the mobile library, electronic media, future of reading, etc pp. I’m still looking for a suitable name. If you feel inspired, please email me your suggestions with the label Oliver’s Thoughts!

1. You may find all iPhone Apps for Social networking at
5. Adam Hirsch: iPhone 2.0 Apps: The Social Networking App Comparison [URL: visited 12.3.2010]
7. Flickit Pro:, Mobile Flickr
8. Florian Fiegel: iPhone, Social Networks und der Flow. [URL: visited 12.3.2010]

Flashmobs in libraries

Foto: rbmedia / Photocase

Much is talked about library users diving deep into digital social networks, but does it have an impact on the real library? Usually not, apart from users hacking vigorously at library computer keyboards. In this issue I will not write on libraries using social networking, but on libraries abused by social networking …

Recently, the Library Journal kindly made us aware on a new social movement taking place in libraries: Flashmobs. [1] According to Wikipedia a flash mob or flashmob is “a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual action for a brief time, and then quickly disperse. The term flashmob is generally applied only to gatherings organized via telecommunications, social media, or viral emails”. [2]

You may all know about pillow fight flashmobs in public places: In social networks such as Facebook, young urban people conspire in meeting at a certain time for the desired performance. Flashmobs make take place at traffic junctions, underground stations, or … surprise, surprise … at medical libraries. What will the mob do there? Sometimes they hold „silent dance parties“ in order not to disturb the peace in the library. At the Carleton College library they gathered at an appointed time and place, and dance (silently) with headphones, listening to music synchronized to a starting signal. [3] They just looking for fun, enjoying themselves, making just these sort of things, which are prohibited by these stubborn librarians: noise, music, singing, dancing to ghetto blasters (on desks), sweating in crazy dresses, e.g. all kind of nonsense! Afterwards it was put on YouTube.

What is the motivation for flashmobs? Quite often, stress is mentioned, especially in the exam weeks. The extended library opening hours made long nights of learning possible – stress may be bottled up. Looking for an outlet, the library is a perfectly suited victim: Firstly, as professors do, they force people to learn, learn, learn. And secondly, librarians are always saying “shshsh…”!

Libraries and stress prevention
Libraries are not the bad guys, they have a lot to offer in terms of stress prevention:

  • Usually they have sweets & coffee automated machines, as well as plenty of text books, even e-books which you could say is the best learning environment one could by for money. The staff is well trained to be polite and competent, but not pushy.
  • Some libraries do a lot more: for example, the Branch Library of Medicine, Münster, has a rest room, equipped with couches on which students may have a nap. [4]
  • The Medical Library of the University of Queensland, Brisbane, provides flexible furniture which can be transformed by users from “group furniture” to “individual furniture”. In a way, students can create their own library, suitable for their needs. The library defined different user groups, and offered special designed spaces for each: spaces for extroverts, spaces for voyeurs, for introverts, etc pp. Since refurbishment took place, library usage has doubled. [5]
  • The Alvin Sherman Library, Fort Lauderdale, offered sophisticated services to help their students relax while preparing for final exams: There was a ‘Zen Zone’, where students received free services such as yoga, guided meditation and massages. Other services included tutoring, reference help, resume help and a gaming room. [6]
  • Would it be a good idea to offer a “stress prevention library disco” too? Really, I don’t know.

What should libraries learn from flashmobs?

1. Security Issues
Flashmobs are not altogether safe. Large gatherings of people have their own dynamics; as with football stadiums, railings may crash, and mass panics may arise. For example, take a look at the flashmob arranged by US students in libraries: Hundreds if not thousands students gather “to have a flash mob rave on the night before finals … to help relieve all the stress”. [7, 8] You could become anxious for students and libraries as well. I’m quite ambivalent how to react: do you:

  • Get the police?
  • Trigger the fire alarm?
  • Make an evacuation call?
  • Just sit there and try to relax as it will end soon either way?

I hope that something like this will never happen at my library…

2. Marketing
On the other hand, flashmobs are ingenious tools for activating people. Maybe the library could use some of the underlying viral techniques for marketing their services. Think on services which badly need attraction, on polls, on demonstrations, on every kind of action where the library needs support by many people (not necessary users). Flashmobs (or Smartmobs) could be used for gathering interest, for getting attention, for kick off services. A beautiful example of such a flashmob is the one done by the students of the medical faculty of the Charité Berlin for celebrating the extension of opening hours of the Central Medical Library [9]. Why is it that libraries do not use the fascinating combination of videos, crowds, and music more often for marketing purposes? Wouldn’t it be great to be for once just an incredible cool library?

1. Josh Hadro: “As Finals Approach, Students De-Stress at Library Dance Parties” Library Journal, 10. Dec. 2009 [URL:]
2. Wikipedia: “Flash Mob” [URL:]
3. Casey Wolf/seedubbayou: “Stress at Carleton College” 3. Dec. 2009 [URL:]
4. Branch Library of Medicine, Münster: “Mal Ausruhen vom Lernen? Der neue Ruheraum macht’s möglich!“ 23. June 2009 [URL:]
5. Heather Todd: “Library spaces – new theatres of learning: a case study” Presentation at the EAHIL Conference in Helsinki, 26. June 2008 [URL:]
6. Annarely Rodriguez: “Library Helps Students Relax During „Crunch Time“ In: The Current Newsletter 19(26) 14. Apr. 2009. page 5 [URL:]
7. skyrepsol: “JMU East Campus Library flash mob rave (Complete highlights)” 7. Dec. 2009 [URL:]
8. cackalacky789: UNC Chapel Hill UL Flash Mob Rave 9. Dec. 2008 [URL:]
9. PublicFSI: “Länger ist besser – Flashmob” 18. June 2009 [URL:, not available any more]