May 29, 2008

...Now with Discovery !

It's a common frustration. A reference appears in the results of an internet search, and yet the actual document is not there. You're stuck. And as we've all experienced, finding a reference to something is just half the job, and not everything is available at the click of a mouse.

So we're going to try something new, and see if we can solve that dilemma. For a look at how that might work, check out our Google Scholar gadget. It offers a suggestion that will eventually help place orders into our document delivery workflow. You know we can deliver. So go ahead and discover. We'll be there.

Please note, the gadget isn't fully functional yet, but we think it presents some interesting possibilities. How about Discovery AND Delivery ? That sounds like docdeli 2.0 .

March 27, 2008


"Not satisfied? ... tell us. Satisfied? ... tell your friends ! "

Everybody likes to get the gold star for their forehead, and sometimes we like to let it shine. So here's some feedback from some of our clients. We hope you enjoy !

" Thanks so much for keeping on top of this. I'm very impressed that you could get this. " - Minneapolis

"You are miracle workers. You make my job so much easier. I really appreciate you responding in such a timely manner. Thank you, thank you, thank you. " - Los Angeles

"Wow. I'm impressed. Thanks a bunch. I couldn't find it. " - Washington, DC

March 25, 2008


One of my summer jobs was shipping books from a publisher to bookstores. We used old newspapers to pad the boxes, and I was always amazed by the number of interesting news articles I would discover while wrapping a shipment for delivery ! I found out much later that most shipping operations specifically don't use newspapers for packing material for exactly this reason !
I was reminded of that productivity hurdle this morning while retrieving some books from the stacks for a client's request. As I pulled one of the books from its place I couldn't help notice a curiously bound volume on the shelf below with the intriguing title "Final Engineering Report on the Restoration and Preservation of Lake Minnetonka and Minnehaha Creek". What really caught my eye was the author's name above the title : "Wirth".
Around my house, that name is held in very high regard. Theodore Wirth was the Minneapolis Landscape Architect that laid the foundation for our city's wonderful park system. As a result of his foresight we enjoy a wonderful series of public spaces arranged in a "Grand Rounds" that my family and I travel by bicycle nearly year-round. So here was something by Wirth himself ! Of course, I couldn't resist.
What I found inside the carefully bound pack was a typewritten manuscript and accompanying maps. The conclusion of the report even bore the signatures of the report's authors: Theodore Wirth, Sven Norling and H.W. Lathrop. What a find ! I added it to the stack of books going back to the office, where I checked it out to myself, and added it to the other "gems" on my desk that I like to review when I have a spare moment.

March 22, 2007

standing by

last week, a patron contacted our office looking for a short section from an outdated edition of the Manual for Patent Examining Procedure. The current MPEP is available online, but she needed to see the section as it was published 20 years ago, and she needed it immediately. Could we help?

No problem. We confirmed our government publications section retained the edition she needed, made a quick call to our staff on location, and 11 minutes later the book had been located on the shelf, the required section located within the book, the pages scanned and uploaded to our document server and the client notified via email that her document was ready for downloading. Two minutes later she logged into the server, downloaded and printed her short document.

This is our raison d'etre. Service. It's our mission, and we're delighted when we can say "mission accomplished ! "

March 1, 2007


I really love music that combines songs, or 'mashes' them together. It's just fun to hear some old favorites remixed, sampled and combined with other music for a new sound. ( Of course, if I'm not familiar with the original, then it's hard to tell what's being sampled, and what's original (if anything) !

Maybe those musical mashup bring a smile because we like deciphering mash-ups of another type - call them 'citation mashups '. A citation is like a map that leads you to a destination in the literature. Follow the path it describes and you'll get to the information you seek. Journal title, year, volume, issue, page... each helps you navigate through the information landscape. Follow them and voila! .... well, that's idea anyway. Most of the time the citation "map" works beautifully, but there are other cases where the map leaves you lost. You're stuck, and trouble is, you still want that article !

We often get requests for documents that are out there in the literature, but we don't have the correct map to lead us there. Sometimes we just just don't have all the information we need, and sometime the information we have is incorrect, and the citation is bad. For example, the author and journal title from one citation gets mixed up with the volume number and year from another citation. Surprisingly, many of these "citation mashups" come from documents that you'd expect to be well behaved, like patents.

Here's one: Webb, etal; Immunochemistry (1976) 5:131-208

It turns out this harmless-looking citation contains information from two other articles, cited correctly below. The relevant details are in bold.

1) Adv Immunol. 1966;5:131-208. Experimental allergic encephalomyelitis and autoimmune disease. Paterson PY.

2) Immunochemistry 13 (4): 333-337 1976. Molecular requirements involved in suppresion of EAE by synthetic basic copolymers of amino-acids. Author(s): Webb C, Teitelbaum D, Herz A, Arnon R, Sela M

So how does a citation mashup occur? And how is it perpetuated in the literature? Well, it turns out both of these articles appear in a bibliography by a third author. They also appear in a patent. Somewhere along the way, they got mashed together. And so now here we are, trying to find a copy of an article that doesn't exist, in that context, at least.

For some insight into the problem, enter a known citation mashup to a resource like ISI's Science Citation index and see if it doesn't produce a few hits. It turns out that once an article is improperly cited, it's likely to be improperly cited time and time again. The take home message here is one that most scholars are familiar with; if you read an article and discover a reference to a third party's work, you probably shouldn't cite that third party without getting a copy of the article and reviewing it yourself.

Which is why we provide a title page and copyright page standard with the articles we supply. Because you need to know your citation is correct, and the article appears in the literature as cited.

back issues, and Way, Way Back

A patron from a Caribbean Island sent us an email between our late winter snowstorms ! That was a nice reminder that cold and snow won't blanket us indefinitely.. well, Turns out he was referred to us by the Library of Congress, who had found that the University of Minnesota Libraries was one of two places that owned an early newspaper. (LC was the other one) This patron was interested in the ship captain's account of a visit to the island where he now resides. We confirmed that we owned the newspaper, and went to the rare books section. Of course, we're always curious what we'll find in the rare books section. Turns out this time, the book was in excellent condition, especially considering it was nearly 400 years old ! The rare books staff used their specialized scanning equipment, which allows them to copy from an original in "face up " position, rather than "face down" , and the scans were sent to the patron, who received them within a couple of hours after his initial email !

February 8, 2007

offbeat ? well, maybe...

You think by now I would have learned.... but even after all this time, my incredulity at what patrons request is often eclipsed by what we can provide ! Simply, I’m often amazed by what we have in the University Libraries.. for example, the other day we had a request for an OPEC press release, from 1968 ! “ Oh Brother ! “ I thought.. but then… “holy cow ! “ … Not to worry, we have OPEC official resolutions and press releases in the Government Publications section. Two and a half hours later, the client had it in hand. Simply amazing.

I think I’ll throw that in the offbeat file, where I’ve stashed a few selected “gems?, offbeat and eyebrow raising articles we’ve retrieved over the years, including the article entitled “The perfect flush?, concerning commodes.

" No job too small ! "

“.. no job too small ! “

Every now and then you’ll see those flyers stapled to the lightpole in the neighborhood, advertising handyman services. You know, “carpentry, plumbing, wiring – build, design, remodel, repair – “No job too small“. They usually have all the phone number tabs on the bottom ripped off, because as any homeowner will tell you, everybody’s got a boatload of pesky small jobs they just can’t get done...

I was reminded of those posters the other day when we had a flurry of jobs that demonstrated how we fill a similar role for librarians and information professionals – like those neighborhood handymen, we’re often called upon to perform those pesky “small? jobs.

For example, a patron needed to confirm a word appears on a certain page of a particular edition of a dictionary. Another called wanting confirmation that the page numbers of a 600 + page thesis from 1956 skip from 255 to 257. (Remember the manual typewriter days ? (No automatic page numbering !) oh, and Yes, there was no page 256 !) Another caller asked us to locate and send just one graph from a 1935 Bulletin of the University of Washington Engineering Experiment Station.