Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Narrative information sources for medicinal care and the implications for LIS

For those who have been following up on my blog for some time, you might already be aware that I am interested in narrative research. Well recently, my university staged a lecture where an author, Dr. Vincent Lam, presented on the topic "Narrative in Medicine – Why We Need Stories in an Age of Evidence". The event was held in the University Hospital | Auditorium A, Room B3-246.

So I attended the lecture by Dr. Vincent Lam staged at my university's hospital. Unfortunately, due to my mix up with the time, I arrived when the lecture was already in progress. Nevertheless, I was still able to get what I needed to hear and even got the opportunity ask Dr. Lam a question. In the next few paragraphs, I outline some of my take away points from Dr. Lam's talk. 

Before outlining what I got from the talk, it is important to indicate my particular interest in the narrative turn in patient care and medicine. I particularly see this new emphasis on narrative based information sources as being important to libraries and information science. This narrative turn in the medical sciences has implications for librarianship, especially in terms of how we go about serving health related information sources. I also see the importance in this for those working as hospital librarians, as they too need to consider supplying biographical or narrative sources to health care providers. (Now back to Dr. Lam's talk.)

Dr Lam indicated that during the encounter between a patient and a health practitioner, the patient brings a story. Usually, the story is "something happened to me". Lam suggests that the health practitioner is then expected to hear and listen carefully to the client's story, and then to use his or her special knowledge and tools to explain the story. Lam also suggests that the health provider is also expected to tell the patient "what will happen next". As such, Lam suggests that doctors and health practitioners have a role to play as story interpreters as well as storytellers. In his words, "doctors are story interpreters" and "third party storytellers", offering story interpretations and storytelling to patients like the shamans and spiritual doctors of the age before modern medicine.

Dr. Lam also argued that health care providers can also benefit from being educated in the literary arts. He cited a study that indicates that reading literary fiction promoted empathy. In general, Lam stated that reading tough, difficult and challenging books was good for medical professionals as it would enable them to become more empathetic. This is needed as medical professionals tend to rely a lot on statistics and hard scientific numerical facts that make them less empathetic and understanding of their clients' needs. 

He said that sometimes doctors need to put down their scientific spectacles in treating patients, and see the world through a different set of eyes. Lam suggests that it is really "easy to miss something about your tools because that is what you work with". It is always good to get outsider perspectives. And narrative information from patients who experience illness are as important as the scholarly or evidence based medical literature for this.

Lam also makes the point that patients rarely present information about what is happening to them in an easy form for doctors to use to make a diagnosis. Patients often do not use the medical terms and jargon when presenting their health problem. Instead, doctors have to collect, interpret and put the fragments of information presented by the patient together into a medical narrative, in order to make sense of it and to arrive at a diagnosis. Hence, in this regard, doctors also need the skill of understanding patient narratives and being able to convert such narratives into a medical narrative.

At the end of his talk, I asked him about his position on doctors reading autobiographies,watching YouTube videos and reading blogs of those who experience illness. His response was "very valuable" and that doctors should read these to supplement their scholarly readings.

My question was motivated from my recent discovery of a Masters thesis in the University of Western Ontario's institutional repository entitled:
Women's Stories of Breast Cancer: Sharing Information Through YouTube Video Blogs  - Jenna Kressler, Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, MSc http://ir.lib.uwo.ca/etd/2095/
This interesting thesis title seems to suggest that a blog is not a medium,but a way of presenting information (genre). Hence YouTube Video blogs! (Or vlogs). The article also touches on the storytelling idea for sharing health-related information. The author also used narrative analysis to conduct her research, similar to the type of analysis that I am doing for my research on blogs and tweets. Finally, she conducted her analysis on the personal narratives of women victims and/or survivors of breast cancer.

The narrative turn in medicine could spell hope for the value of the humanities in academia, Medicine is realizing and awakening to the idea that narrative and storytelling skills are important to its practice. Further, librarians have a role to play in serving medical practitioners with not just scholarly and scientific literature, but also biographies and other personal narratives of the persons that experience illness. Finally, librarians also have a role in not just providing the published sources of narratives, but also considering social media sources such as blogs and YouTube videos. Curating these may also be valuable to medical practitioners who need to supplement their professional understanding of illness with a deeper understanding of the patient's side of the story.

Blogging dilemma for an academic

One of the challenges that I have discovered about blogging about my research or research interests as an academic is the potential problem of compromising the peer review process of academia. While I not sure if it happens in practice, I suspect it is quite possible that academics or practitioners who review papers that I submit to journals are able to discover that I am the author if they:

  1. have been following up on my blog or status  updates on social networks 
  2. are curious enough to Google search or snoop on the Web to discover the possible author of the paper they are reviewing or come across the information by accident while googling the topic.

Any of these will compromise the blind peer review process as it will remove anonymity about the author of the paper. As such, this raises a dilemma for me as an academic passionate about blogging and sharing my research with my online social and electronic networks. This reduces what I can blog about. I have to avoid blogging about my research until after it has been published, which can take some time. Hence, I can not post weekly or even monthly updates on my ongoing research findings or even any part of the research process.

This leaves me to consider what else can an academic safely blog about?

While I currently see some of my Jamaican academic colleagues blogging commentaries about current events in Jamaica, to me this seems quite risky as an untenured faculty. Unless one is providing scholarly analysis, one risks alienating university administration, politicians and potential donors to the university and to one's research. In this era of academic capitalism and the corporate university, it seems that an untenured faculty  member needs to remain publicly neutral on issues, as an employee of an institution that seeks capital investment from various sources. In this new era, everyone in society is a stakeholder or potential stakeholder for the university.  This includes:

  • Politicians (who may or may not be in power)
  • Students and alumni from all religions, political affiliations, sexual orientations, ethnic groups, race, etc. who are both customers and potential donors (or contributors to the university's endowment fund)
  • various non-profit entities and corporations who have funding, donations or other investment to contribute to the university's development or research.

Consequently, the university, just like the secular state, must be inclusive, while at the same time, upholding traditional academic principles. Principles such as free speech, intellectual freedom, and diversity of thought, opinions and perspectives must coexist with an environment where all stakeholders feel that the university is serving their varied interests.

As such, it seems safer for academics to blog about pedagogy (how to teach their subject). But even blogging about pedagogy publicly is challenging, because we have to preserve the privacy of our students and what goes on in the classroom from the public.

Perhaps it is safer to blog one's reaction to information disseminated. This includes news, news articles, research papers or events such as video or conference presentations. Yet, it seems that academics may still need to be careful in selecting which issue published to react to, avoiding controversial topics. Blogging about hobbies seems safest. However, many times, our hobbies are not connected to our research.

As such, I wonder if in an era where blogging can land one in trouble with the law, do blogs give academics (especially the untenured ones) any voice? We are the university employees of  a new era. An era where tenure is no longer guaranteed. An era where the university is adjusting to a new institutional status as an institution that seeks to attract capital investment from all stakeholders in society in order to maintain its survival.

Second, our own peers can victimize us during the blind peer review process if we blog about our research, depending on whether or not they like us. Even if they do not victimize us (especially in cases where they like us), blogging about our research potentially compromises the blind peer review process. This it does by making it easier to identify the author of a manuscript submitted for publication. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My experiences using e-book/audio book platforms and subscription services

I took some time over the summer to experiment and explore a number of online e-book and audio subscription services. In addition, at the time I began my exploration, an article emailed to me from my network entitled "What’s better than Kindle Unlimited for $120 a year? This free alternative" (see Randall, 2014) also inspired me to think more about my experiment. The result is this preliminary report on my experiences using three e-book/audio book platforms or subscription services: Reading Rainbow, OverDrive and Audible. The limitation, I have only attempted to use these platforms on one device, the iPad.
  • Reading Rainbow app for iOS - free version
  • OverDrive - free through my public library
  • Amazon's Audible - 30-day trial version

I begin with the Reading Rainbow App downloaded from the App Store. Reading Rainbow was a television program when I was a kid, and now that I am a parent with girls that like to read, I decided to check out this app. Rather than being an app that talk about books and featured children performing reading, the app was essentially a "Library of Children's Books, Kids Videos & Educational Games" (See the i-Tunes review). After the long introductory video, the app visually organizes books by islands of interest (located in the sky) with interesting titles such as "the Animal Kingdom", "Genius Academy" and "Action Adventure & Magical Tales". The child can then navigate to an island of interest and access books and educational videos in that genre or topical island. In addition, the readers in the free version can check out up to five e-books into their virtual backpack. The reading experience is not only one where narration is provided, but to some extent, limited interactivity is built into the picture books, where readers can touch the page and experience certain (motion and sound) effects.

While Reading Rainbow was a hit with my first born who wanted me to subscribe so that she could access more books and return the books she had already read, I could not bring myself to do so, knowing that I had a free public library 15 minutes away from where I lived. Yet, considering that we had limited time to spend at the library each week borrowing books and that my first born devoured the books borrowed within 2 days, it seemed that access to e-books would perhaps be a better option for such a voracious reader. This brings me to the free library alternative, OverDrive.

In 2012, I blogged about my first experience using OverDrive (See that blog post here). However, at that time, I used OverDrive, I did so using the laptop. This time however, I used OverDrive with the iPad, and I must say, OverDrive is better used with iPad than a laptop. Just the portability alone and the fact that you can curl up into a chair without something warm or hot (especially in the summer) in your lap makes the iPad or tablet computer a better option for reading e-books or listening to audio books versus the laptop.

That said, to get started, you have to download the app and get your library card in hand. (Setting-up can be quite a daunting process compared to Reading Rainbow's app). Once you are set up and learn your way around the app and the library's website, you are good to go. OverDrive is definitely not as intuitive and easy as ReadingRainbow, where you can just navigate to islands of interest. Rather, navigation here requires browsing images of book covers or tapping on hyperlinks organized by genre. However, the plus side is that you can search for what you want (whereas Reading Rainbow forces you to just explore what they have available). While OverDrive was great for downloading both e-books and audio books, I do not think it sparked the enthusiasm of my firstborn as much as Reading Rainbow. Nonetheless, my firstborn enjoyed listening to the audio books and hopefully learned some new words and how they are pronounced or sound, compared to just reading the text by herself.

Another thing about OverDrive is that the collection is limited. For one reason or the other, the selection of books was particularly limiting for my peculiar interest in Judeo-Christian theology. I found few books (7 from four authors) discussing Jesus. On the other hand, I could not access the Word of Promise audio Bible that I had previously borrowed in CD-form from the same public library and had to settle for a less dramatic King James version. As such, I conclude that OverDrive perhaps may not be a platform to go for a specific hobby-related interest, but more what is the popular interest. Another down side to this, is that you only get 14 days to listen to or read the books borrowed. In addition, some books that you may be interested in may have to be placed on hold as someone else is currently reading or using the file. So you might have a queue waiting for an e-book or audio book to become available.

That brings me to Audible. Audible requires setting up an account with Amazon or signing into your existing account with Amazon. That said, I was offered a 30 day trial version of the service, enabling me to download the app and experience it. It is from this app that I was able to access the Word of Promise audio Bible, which I downloaded and was able to listen to even without Internet Access. The strange thing about this was that my CD player and radio died 2 days after I downloaded the app (must have been jealous).

Compared to OverDrive, Audible seemingly offers a greater variety of books for one's peculiar hobby-related interest. Further, you do not have to wait in a queue for a popular book. You can essentially get any book that you want for either a monthly or annual fee. Randal (2014) mentions that Kindle Unlimited charges $9.99 a month, but the fee for subscription to Audible is 14.95 per month. With this price, I will just stick it out at OverDrive and perhaps just buy the e-book that I really want that the library does not provide access to.

Now listening to audio books is like listening to the radio. When I was a child, there used to be radio dramas. And listening to audio books, (especially fictional ones) or those that employ dramaturgical or theatrical elements, reminded me of those days when I'd listen to radio dramas. Yet, I am a more visual person, and eventually tune out audio as background noise (apart from the interesting fiction books like the ones my firstborn were listening to). Further, I can only listen to one book at a time and could not fathom downloading a new audio book daily, weekly or monthly. What this means is that I would have to download books that I'd want to hear for a year, and then listen to each book until it is completed, before going on to the next book. As such, I don't think paying $14.95 per month is justified for listening to audio books, just the same way that I am unaccustomed for paying to listen to radio stations with their annoying ads.

That said, I end my report on my experiences here. Up next (in the future) is my report on the experience using Google Play as a platform for accessing e-books.


Randall, T. (2014, July 31). What’s better than Kindle Unlimited for $120 a year? This free alternative. Bloomberg Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-07-31/what-s-better-than-kindle-unlimited-for-120-a-year-this-free-alternative.html

Monday, August 4, 2014

What the iPad and Tablets are good at?

So if you haven't gotten a tablet device as yet, I guess this post may be useful in helping you decide whether or not the device is a good fit for you and your lifestyle. Here in bullet points, I summarize what the iPad in particular and tablets in general are good at. While I conclude that the iPad is bad for typing, tablets in general are good for media consumption, and for some types of media generation. Here is my list of what the iPad is good for:

With tablet technologies you can:
  • read e-books
  • listen to audio-books
  • surf the web (with quality of web surfing limited to those sites that provide a mobile website)
  • check email (with quality of email access dependent on the email provider providing a mobile email app)
  • play games 
  • watch video
  • take or capture photographs or video

However, you can't use the iPad to replace a laptop or PC. In fact, the iPad is best functional when synchronised with other devices (such as an iPhone, PC or laptop). This especially because not all Websites and Web services are fully functional when viewed by a tablet. Secondly, there are certain things better down on a laptop or PC with a large screen and a keyboard that is large enough for you to type 60 to 120 words per minute.

Mobile apps coexisting with the printed book?

I had the opportunity this summer to explore mobile apps on the iPad. In addition to experimenting with the tablet and mostly free mobile apps, I also completed my online course on "the future of storytelling". In this course, one of the final segments was on transmedia storytelling, which mentioned how the narrative of a traditionally published novel was extended through the use of mobile apps. Through this particular segment, I learned about MirrorWorld and Mirada. In this blog post or entry, I briefly introduce both MirrorWorld and Mirada, with some discussion of how these represent a new trend of convergence between traditional book publishing and mobile app development.

To begin, MirrorWorld is one of the works of Mirada in modern storytelling that mixes both traditional and technological techniques to expand on a story world first told by a novel. According to Mirada's About page,  Mirada is "a studio designed for storytellers" (Mirada 2014, "About"). They specialise in "synthesizing archetypal oral tradition with modern technique" (Mirada 2014, "About", para. 2). Mirada further dubs Mirror World as the "World’s First Living Storybook" (Mirada 2014, "Cornelia"). In my understanding of Mirror World, Mirada built a mobile app that functioned as a story engine or database that permits users to explore the story world and be immersed into an interactive experience while exploring the story. For more information on this (or if you want to check out the app for yourself), explore the following websites:

However, I just wanted to opine here that after seeing Mirror World and learning about the development of the app to expand on the novel, I think the future of traditional book publishing will persist. Hence, future books being published will have accompanying apps. These accompanying apps will expand the story world of the traditionally published book visually and otherwise. What this means in my opinion is that the printed book is not yet dead, but will co-exist in the future with apps that expands upon the narrative that the book tells.


Mirada (2014). About. Retrieved from http://mirada.com/about

---(2014). Cornelia Funke’s mirror world: Crafting the World’s First Living Storybook.
Retrieved from http://mirada.com/stories/mirrorworld

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Can graduates consult fresh out of library school? A few thoughts

For June, I have been putting together my thoughts and research on consulting and consultants in domains outside of library and information science (LIS). I have also been informally talking with independent information professionals and formulating ideas about my dissertation project, including possible conclusions and recommendations that I might want to contribute to the field. In this blog post, I want to share some of my thoughts (that I may not necessarily include in my final project). These thoughts are basically centered around providing answers to the question:
Can graduates consult fresh out of library school?

In a recent conversation with a library student about my research, I mentioned that I am studying  library consulting as a phenomenon. The conversation lead to her asking me several questions about library consultants and library consulting. One such question was whether or not library consultants need to have experience working in the field before doing consulting. Currently, it is the dominant paradigm that library consultants cannot be students "fresh out of library school". This view is not only held by MLIS students, but also practitioners and professionals. It is also embedded in the literature that basically defines a consultant as an "outside expert" that provides problem solving advice. Yet, my view is why does it have to be seen this way?

When I look at MBA graduates, they leave business schools and immediately join management consulting firms, with little or no experience working in actual businesses. When I consider this, my argument is that how we teach MLIS students could also prepare them for consulting without actually working in libraries. In my radical proposal, a consultant does not necessarily need work experience, but could tentatively have two other criteria:
  1. an outsider perspective and
  2. a specialty

When I look at MBA education and even management consulting literature, students are prepared for consulting. They learn methods and processes to do consulting through books such as

Another thing about MBA education (I know these things partially because my wife did an MBA), is that they work a lot with real life cases or case studies. So while MBA students do not have work experience, they use these cases and case studies to practice their consulting methods and principles. Sometimes, MBA courses actually insist that students actually engage real companies and organizations and prepare their own cases and proposals for solving the problems in those cases. Considering this, I wonder if library schools could borrow some of these practices in library education in order to prepare library school graduates for consulting.

Then when I look at law education, I see law students as studying mainly cases. Is it possible that library school graduates could substitute work experience by being exposed to studies of various "library cases"?

I also look at the fact that sometimes consultants are engaged in organizations for their specialty. Sometimes, this involves their knowledge of a particular software, collection, or of a particular subset of users (say for instance LGBT users, or African-Americans, or Muslims, etc.) or because of their specialty in a particular language. In other words, there are cases in which work experience is unnecessary to consulting, particularly in cases where MLIS graduates already come with a bachelors degree in a previous area of studies. In other cases, MLIS graduates may have a niche hobby that enables them to be an expert or specialist in a particular area, such as Comic books, Graphic Novels, Star Trek or some game specialty.

Finally, I look at my own experience as a MLIS student, where I actually performed information brokerage, information consulting and library consulting before graduating from library school without knowing that what I was doing had formal names and procedures. In some of those instances, the outcomes were not as successful as I would have wanted them to be. However, now that I have researched consulting and have come across principles, process models and methods for consulting, I felt that I could have been more effective in my library and information brokerage and consulting roles early on in my career. Had I been taught how to be an effective consultant in library school, I feel that I would have gotten better results in all those early freelance projects that I did as a student before graduating from library school.


It is therefore my opinion that while the dominant perspective in my discipline is that library school graduates cannot enter into consulting directly after exiting library school, that this is not a function of them lacking work experience, but a function of the library curriculum not preparing them for such roles. My main support for this argument is that MBA graduates consult without work experience, and this is because they are provided with adequate curriculum and informational support. Secondly, I have argued that consultants are not only important because of their work experience, but sometimes because of their knowledge derived from their hobbies or personal experiences. Library students doing their Masters, with a degree in another subject, are highly likely to possess some niche area or subject that they are quite conversant if not an expert on. Finally, I feel that my own personal experience could have been enriched by a course that would prepare me for effective consulting. (Coincidentally, I am aware of recent grads that are also doing consulting and am sure that they too would benefit from such a course). So I say, let's think more about this.


Kurian, G. T. (2013). Consultant. The AMA dictionary of business and management. New York: Amacom.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Talking with the vendors of InMagic Presto & MinISIS

Day 3 SLA 2014 conference June 10: Talking with the vendors

I had four unofficial priorities for this conference 
1. Network with library and information consultants
2. listen to talks presented by library and information consultants
3. informally talk about my research ideas with library and information consultants
4. experience SLA for the first time

However, on attending I found that I just went with the flow (giving up my own agenda) and sought to make the most of the experience. This included:
talking and networking with employed librarians, which enabled me to receive valuable career advice and counselling
formally joining AIIP (paying the student membership fee)
purchasing Mary Ellen Bates' book on Building & Running a Successful Research Business
learning whatever I could from each presentation at the conference (especially those relating to social media or my other research interests)
and finally, talking with vendors to get updates on their products and what’s going on with databases today

It is the latter official goal that I want to discuss some more in this blog entry.

I spent the time listening to presentations from and chatting with the vendors of library systems and technological solutions. In total, I counted 4 vendors that I actively or passively engaged to learn from:
1. Intellixir LCC,
2. Elsevier – Scopus
3. Minisis
4. InMagic 

In addition, I sat in a session where librarians shared their stories about how they made the best of SharePoint for their Intranet and library services, which deserves its own blog post.

However, in this particular blog post, I want to discuss the 2 vendors that I spoke with who actually had clients in the English-speaking Caribbean: Minisis and InMagic. In fact, because I was aware that my colleagues from the region used these vendors, I took the time to learn about their updates and upgrades.

InMagic Presto for DB/TextWorks

I spoke to Jason Buggy from Lucidea and had him demo the new Web-based interface upgrade for InMagic dubbed Presto and was impressed. New features include being able to incorporate blog entries and other social media such as discussion fora into the catalogue results. That’s right folks; the industry is ahead of academia, as they are already providing features for including blog entries and discussion forums in a library’s catalogue. Of course, the entries are based on what the librarian collects and vets. 

In addition, a new feature that I also saw was that Presto enabled one to include the profiles of experts (picture, contact information and blurbs of experience/knowledge) into the catalogue or OPAC results. That’s right; the inclusion of people information in the OPAC results as well, so that one can showcase the knowledge experts or knowledgeable people sources 

You can check out a brochure on Inmagic’s Presto here: http://www.inmagic.com/products/presto-technology/

With news that the National Library of Jamaica is moving beyond WINISIS and on to OCLC’s WorldCat, I was a bit curious as to what’s happening with MinISIS, which is a related platform. So I had a chat with Christopher Burcsik. While for this software, I did not get a demo of the features, I got some background information about the company and MinISIS. For instance, I learned that MinISIS was Canadian. In fact, the brochure that I accessed states that "MINISIS Inc. is a multinational corporation headquartered in Vancouver, BC, with regional offices in Ontario, Tunisia, and Trinidad and Tobago" (p.2).

While MinISIS was once free and based on UNESCO’s open-sourced WINISIS, its development was later funded and sponsored by the Canadian Government (personal interview). Eventually, the Canadian Government cut the funding to the software, forcing MinISIS to change its model from a publicly funded free software development to one where it had to charge fees to be viable. According to the brochure, MinISIS is a social entrepreneurial venture. While they charge fees for the software, they continue to support the development of the software to support the needs of libraries, archives and museums across the world that still depend on and possess databases based on WinISIS records. 

I also got some insights from Burcsik, who argued that open source development of library software is not sustainable [especially for developing countries I would add]. He pointed out that there would be need for constant evolution and update, including creating new patches to prevent against viruses and hacking, for which librarians would not be experts in  [The whole time he was talking this, I was thinking about University of Prince Edward Island library’s Islandora open source project and wondering if Mark Leggott would strongly disagree]. Burcsik also made the point that WinISIS basically could not survive beyond the efforts of the founder. As such, he suggests that only commercially drive software by companies driven by profits can continue to develop sustainable products for libraries (personal interview).

When I raised the issues of OCLC, it was suggested that OCLC, though claiming to be a non-profit entity, was actually between a non-profit and profit-making entity. It was also suggested that OCLC perhaps makes far more profit than MinISIS. This may be something that I might need to look into further. 


Minisis Inc. (N.d.). Minisis Inc: Celebrating over 40 years of innovation in database technology [Computer file/Brochure]. N.p.: Author.