This Week in LIS - 21 December 2012

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Headline of the Week: Watson for Libraries

This week I came across another interesting piece on IBM’s Watson (Jeopardy playing fame). It was written by a colleague I’ve I had the pleasure of working with in a couple of assignments, Rob High.

It describes in a non-technical way how Watson works. It discusses a number of interesting examples associated with the complexity of semantic natural language processing, how it uses statistics and patterns and strategies and rules to emulate “reasoning.” It talks about the dependence on a large corpus of domain relevant information, how it is organized and leveraged. There is discussion of how it improves over time as it “trains.” A number of applications of the technology are mentioned.

It struck me again how applicable this technology might be to the library. Imagine a digitized collection “ingested” and organized for searching with a technology like this. An especially interesting dimension is the ability to identify further questions to be asked in a context based on the connections (semantic and statistical based on algorithms) discovered. It seems like it could lead to a powerful tool that could help find many related needles in the extraordinary collection haystack leading to the possibility for more power insights and ideas.

Further I imagine librarians building on top of these connections with more sophisticated insights providing more “training” for the system. I can imagine as well a new role for reference librarians helping explain how the system came up with the references or “answers” to questions helping the less initiated work with such a tool.

I feel like I did when I learned the slide rule because it had so recently been the way to do complex computation even as the first scientific calculators were becoming affordable. I felt like I might be missing something not learning to use a slide rule. I felt perhaps I was cheating (as compared to those that came before me). I think I’ve heard this sentiment expressed in the context of Zotero’s capability of creating properly formatted references – automatically. Today calculators are in watches and in OS’s and devices and on websites, embedded in spreadsheets, etc – they are just a tool that’s available. Those computational building blocks are leveraged to create higher level tools such as modelling tools and sophisticated technical tools.

Would a Watson for Libraries be an extraordinary thing for faculty and students or would something important to learning and teaching critical thinking and problem solving be lost? When tools displace or provide additional and alternative paths to traditional tools that many have spent a great deal of energy mastering is that progress or loss?

Suggested Reading/Viewing:

The Era of Cognitive Systems: An Inside Look at IBM Watson and How it Works

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LIS Blog Highlights from the Week

The following articles are sampled from those available on the LIS Blog:

Notes from LIS Council

LIS Council is the leadership team within LIS. Among the topics discussed this past week were:

  • LIS Operational Agenda
    • Council members will be reporting on LIS operational views (metrics for processes and status of projects) regularly at LIS Council meetings. This week’s reports included the following:
    • Network & Systems
      • Adam shared statistics on LCGuest Wireless Network visits by browser type. Safari and Android topped the list. We also looked at the visits by OS, and Macintosh and Android topped that list.
      • Norse Apps are most frequently accessed by Chrome, Firefox, and Safari browsers. Most frequent OS accessing Norse Apps are Windows and Macintosh.
      • Our new firewalls have the capacity to do virus scanning. We looked at the top viruses stopped by the firewall.
    • User Services
      • GoPrint reports for J-Term and Spring 2012 were recently compiled by Matt Hughes and were shared. They are available on the LIS website at
      • Stats regarding repair of personal hardware (i.e. non-Luther owned hardware) completed by the Help Desk staff this fall as compared to last fall were shared.
      • Diane shared Kbox ticket metrics including counts by category and AV.
      • Project updates included information on: multimedia assessment, Help Desk student work training in January, Koren lab / lobby printer and workstation changes pending, duplex printers to be purchased, and we are updating printers in kbox to current and simplifying the price sheets.
      • Software updates included information on: Qualtrics survey software recently acquired, Adobe CS renewal pricing under review, SPSS pricing under review, to replace SimpleHelp for off-campus support, service is shut down, and Google Winter Cleaning calendar sync & appointment slots ending.
  • New Items
    • Conferences
      • We discussed important conferences that we are either obligated to attend as part of our membership in the associated group or are important to our operation to attend. An important aspect of conferences is connecting with colleagues who have insights and interest in discussing common challenges and issues in addition to the session agenda.
    • J-Term Internships
      • We will have 3 J-Term interns. Two students will intern in the library and Andi and John will provide their guidance. One student will intern with Adam and focus on networking.
    • Library Room 101 Carrel
      • For Spring 2013, carrel 101 may be used by a Paideia instructor.
    • Jean’s Retirement
      • Jean Dickman is retiring. Her last day of work is January 18th. A reception is being planned.
    • LIS Credit Cards
      • Andrew Bailey from OFS has opened a conversation about the process for managing individual credit card access, storage, convenience and risk.
    • Next Week’s LIS Council
      • Given the number of team members who plan to be on vacation, the 12/26 LIS Council meeting is cancelled.
    • Active Directory Project/ Norse Key password change page
      • We discussed the status of the Active Directory (AD) project. One of the key dependencies to customer service and Help Desk impact is a function to synchronize passwords in systems (e.g. AD, LDAP, Google). We discussed staging possibilities and associated client impact. Adam and Marcia to get together to develop a plan and schedule to minimize disruption to users and accommodate other projects that want to leverage AD without proliferating signon management complexity.
  • Returning Items
    • Security
      • Paul & Adam will assume leadership and work with the team to develop process and coordinate plans moving forward.
    • Qualtrics Acquired
      • Qualtrics survey software has been acquired for campus wide use. This is a cloud-based tool customized with the Luther logo.
    • January LIS General
      • We plan to gather mid-year progress updates at our January LIS General. For those not attending (e.g. vacation), a Norse Doc has been made available for people to put in updates. Others can also put in updates ahead of time to expedite the conversation.
    • LIS Migration to Reason
      • Publications student workers will help convert static LIS website content in January. Conversations have begun and will continue to talk about navigation and design concepts in January with Tabita Green (new Web Content Manager), Rob, Ryan, Steve, and Brian Jones.
    • Multimedia Assessment/Proposal
      • The information from the quantitative assessment is being integrated. A number of parallel threads need to be worked so that we can iterate to a comprehensive solution proposal. Threads include a technical architecture for the repository and space proposals to accommodate digital media work.
    • Katie
      • Lane, Jennifer, and Diane will help facilitate January faculty working sessions that provide additional support for faculty participants in the transition to the New Katie Version Spring 2013. This will help LIS staff learn more about common questions and answers.

Upcoming LIS Training, Instruction, and Professional Development Opportunities

Click on the event below for specific information and for a link to register. More information on training and development events is available.

Course Format Date Location Enrollment
Get Inside E-Books in Your Library Workshop Jan 8 2013 – 10:00am 10:45am Preus Library – Curriculum Classroom Open
E-Reading on Your Tablet Workshop Jan 10 2013 – 2:30pm 3:45pm Preus Library – Hovde Lounge Open
Google (Norse) Docs Workshop Jan 16 2013 – 9:00am 9:30am Olin 301 – Round Table Room Open
New Katie – Faculty Working Session Workshop Jan 16 2013 – 9:30am 12:00pm Olin 301 – Round Table Room Open
Be the Library: How to Lend Your Own E-Books Product Demonstration Jan 17 2013 – 12:30pm 1:15pm Preus Library – Hovde Lounge Open
Google (Norse) Docs Workshop Jan 21 2013 – 12:00pm 12:30pm Olin 301 – Round Table Room Open
New Katie – Faculty Working Session Workshop Jan 21 2013 – 12:30pm 3:00pm Olin 301 – Round Table Room Open
Get Inside E-Books in Your Library Workshop Jan 22 2013 – 3:00pm 3:45pm Preus Library – Hovde Lounge Open
E-Reading on Your Tablet Workshop Jan 24 2013 – 10:00am 10:45am Preus Library – Curriculum Classroom Open
Google (Norse) Docs Workshop Jan 29 2013 – 11:00am 11:30am Olin 301 – Round Table Room Open
New Katie – Faculty Working Session Workshop Jan 29 2013 – 11:30am 2:00pm Olin 301 – Round Table Room Open
Google (Norse) Docs Workshop Jan 31 2013 – 1:00pm 1:30pm Olin 301 – Round Table Room Open
New Katie – Faculty Working Session Workshop Jan 31 2013 – 1:30pm 4:00pm Olin 301 – Round Table Room Open

Training and instruction is provided to the Luther Community through Faculty Development Sessions, Library Instruction Sessions, Product Demonstrations, Skills Training, Workshops, 1-on-1 Sessions, and Online Materials. To schedule a session, contact the LIS Technology Help Desk at x1000 or enter your request online at

This Week in LIS is published most Fridays by Paul Mattson, Executive Director of LIS at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

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