Wednesday, December 29, 2010

NSF mandate for Data Management Plans - help from the UMass Amherst Libraries

Beginning January 18, 2011, proposals submitted to the National Science Foundation must include a supplementary document of no more than two pages labeled “Data Management Plan”. This supplementary document should describe how the proposal will conform to NSF policy on the dissemination and sharing of research results.
To assist investigators, the National Science Foundation is providing FAQs and guidance documents from specific Directorates that address compliance. The entire policy, FAQ list, and links to Directorate information are available at For full policy implementation, see the Grant Proposal Guide Chapter II.C.2.j.
Several federal and non-governmental funding agencies have their own set of requirements for data sharing. See for example, the University of Minnesota's list of funding agency data guidelines.

UMass Amherst Libraries: Data Working Group and Data Management Services

To help researchers meet the NSF’s requirements, the Data Working Group is coordinating the development of a number of services to help researchers analyze existing data management practices or create new practices that best fit the needs of their research projects.
Relevant services include:
  1. Guidance in the identification of appropriate data repositories for the archiving of large-scale data sets and associated research outputs, and assistance with material deposition.
  2. Consultation on metadata and standards for format and content of data, policies for data sharing and accessibility, and plans for long-term access and preservation of data sets.
  3. Provision of a globally accessible and widely indexed online location for faculty’s research outputs, including persistent URLs and searchable metadata, through ScholarWorks, the University's Institutional Repository.
This list of services will expand as the work of the Data Working Group and the Digital Strategies Group continues.
More information is available on the Library website under Services for Faculty:

Article worth reading from Aug 2010: I Hate Your Paper - The Scientist - Magazine of the Life Sciences - by Jef Akst

Thought-provoking commentary on the problems of the peer-review system due to bias or other (un)professional conduct, and the state of science and science funding. Lively comments from readers after the article are also worth reading - peer-review is fine on the whole; there are not too few, but too many papers published; that the fault lies with the editors, publishers, etc. Peer-review is changing now; I am interested to see how this plays out in this brave new world we have created.

I will likely reference this article when I talk to students about peer-review in library sessions.

I Hate Your Paper - The Scientist - Magazine of the Life Sciences -
Many say the peer review system is broken. Here’s how some journals are trying to fix it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5 - report on the State of Science in the U.S.

This report was prepared for the Presidents of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. From the website:
In the face of so many daunting near-term challenges, U.S. government and industry are letting the crucial strategic issues of U.S. competitiveness slip below the surface. Five years ago, the National Academies prepared Rising Above the Gathering Storm, a book that cautioned: "Without a renewed effort to bolster the foundations of our competitiveness, we can expect to lose our privileged position." Since that time we find ourselves in a country where much has changed--and a great deal has not changed.
So where does America stand relative to its position of five years ago when the Gathering Storm book was prepared? The unanimous view of the authors is that our nation's outlook has worsened. The present volume, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited, explores the tipping point America now faces. Addressing America's competitiveness challenge will require many years if not decades; however, the requisite federal funding of much of that effort is about to terminate.
Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited provides a snapshot of the work of the government and the private sector in the past five years, analyzing how the original recommendations have or have not been acted upon, what consequences this may have on future competitiveness, and priorities going forward. In addition, readers will find a series of thought- and discussion-provoking factoids--many of them alarming--about the state of science and innovation in America.
Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited is a wake-up call. To reverse the foreboding outlook will require a sustained commitment by both individual citizens and government officials--at all levels. This book, together with the original Gathering Storm volume, provides the roadmap to meet that goal. While this book is essential for policy makers, anyone concerned with the future of innovation, competitiveness, and the standard of living in the United States will find this book an ideal tool for engaging their government representatives, peers, and community about this momentous issue.
Available free online - linked above from the title of this blog post.

Monday, October 04, 2010

NSF Data Management Plans - language is out!

The National Science Foundation had said back in May of this year that Data Management Plans will be required in future grant applications, and that they would elaborate on this in October.

Academic librarians have been wondering if developing these plans might cause researchers to consult us about developing quality metadata for their data.  Ideally, thought should be given in advance of data collection to how research might be used in the future, by the researchers themselves, and by others, maybe even in other fields; tagging the data at its inception is most efficient. Looks like baby steps at the beginning, though.

Link to the NSF page where the language on Data Management Plans is published:

Specific language for various units within NSF (Directorate, Office, Division, Program, etc.) is here:

On that page is a link to an FAQ about Data Management Plans: 
For an example, here is Frequently Asked Question #3:
3. Am I required to deposit my data in a public database?
What constitutes reasonable data management and access will be determined by the community of interest through the process of peer review and program management. In many cases, these standards already exist, but are likely to evolve as new technologies and resources become available.

We're all in a brave new world.  If you are a UMass Amherst person and are interested in speaking with a librarian about how the Library might be able to work with you on a Data Management Plan, please get in touch!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Academy Rankings Tell You a Lot, But Not Who's No. 1 in Any Field

Jeffrey Mervis
Science 1 October 2010: 18-19. 

This week's release of the long-awaited assessment of the quality of U.S. research doctoral programs by the National Academies' National Research Council will disappoint those who simply want to know who's No. 1 in any particular field, because the NRC assessment can look quite different depending on your definition of "best." 
 This National Academies' NRC study was discussed in a recent meeting I attended of the UMass Amherst Faculty Senate's council which is the liaison to the University's Development Office.  Rankings of this kind are always of interest to University administrations, naturally. Everyone speaking about it acknowledged that the 'rankings' are problematic in a number of ways.  One member commented that the people doing the ranking wouldn't have first-hand knowledge of the  departments they were judging among - it's a matter of reputation, apparently, rather than anything based on real data. That said, people will make use of the numbers in whatever way will benefit their agenda.  From the article in Science:
To be sure, NRC does rank programs—but oh so carefully. Instead of assigning a single score to each program in a particular field, the assessment ranks the program on five different scales. Each score is also presented as a range of rankings reflecting the 5th and 95th percentiles of the scores it received. The scales themselves are based on 20 characteristics (see table, p. 19) that the NRC panel deemed appropriate for a quantitative assessment. Two are supposed to portray the overall quality of the program—one derived from a reputational survey (the R scale), the other from a quantitative analysis (the S scale). Three others rely on subsets that address important dimensions of quality: research activity, student support and outcomes, and diversity. The report itself highlights the uncertainties generated by such an exercise by calling the results "illustrative rankings [that] are neither endorsed nor recommended by the NRC as an authoritative conclusion about the relative quality of doctoral programs."
 The report's Excel spreadsheets are available at or

News article from Nature: "Emperor penguin's old clothes are unveiled"

Fossilized feathers reveal colourful past.

A 36-million-year-old fossilized penguin skeleton found on a cliff-face in Peru has given scientists insight into how penguin feathers, originally used for flight, adapted to swimming. The fossil, found by palaeontology student Ali Altamirano of the Museum of Natural History in Lima, contained intact pigments which researchers say mean that, instead of the black and white plumage of modern-day penguins, the ancient bird sported grey and reddish-brown feathers.
Image caption: The fossilised remains of a giant penguin reveals the birds were not always black and white. - Katie Browne, U.T. Austin
... [article continues - click on title to go to the original article]

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Changes at the Sciences & Engineering Library (@SEL) - Fall 2010 - elevators, shelves, and names - oh my!

We've been busy this summer.

Because the campus Facilities Planning is upgrading the electrical system in our building, we lost a little space on every floor, and about half the Library's basement. We installed motorized compact shelving in the remaining basement space to maximize the storage capacity there; that propelled our decision to rearrange our collections to take the best advantage of this change. In short:
  • All circulating books - 3rd floor
  • All bound journals - 1st floor & Basement
Here's our current floor directory
Unfortunately, due to bureaucratic issues, we are not allowed to use the basement yet. Thus, the journals shelved there are unavailable to us until the Amherst Fire Department signs off on the room. Articles from those journals can be requested through Interlibrary Loan.

Also, the long-awaited elevator replacement project has begun.  The north elevator in the Lederle Low Rise was replaced over the summer. They are now working (intermittently) on the one in SEL. Until they are done, we must use the elevator at the north end outside the Library to move books from floor to floor (for reshelving, e.g.).  If you need to get from floor to floor in the Library, and have limited mobility, please let us know and we can assist.

Finally, we have amended the name of the Library, dropping "Integrated" because it doesn't mean anything now, and because it caused confusion for our patrons, who have been known to go by mistake to the new Integrated Sciences Building instead of Lederle to reach us.  This required a lot of website editing, and I'm not convinced we found them all, so if you find "Integrated Sciences and Engineering Library" on our website, please let us know! I also changed the name of the blog - since we are now acronym-ized as SEL, we are blogging as @SEL.  Hope you like the change.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Ants save trees from elephants

Ants on a whistling-thorn tree
Image: Todd Palmer
Commentary from  The Scientist - Magazine of the Life Sciences:
"Ants known to defend certain species of Acacia trees from elephant predation deter the massive herbivores so effectively that they are impacting entire savanna ecosystems, according to a study published online today (2nd September) in Current Biology. "

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Volunteer salmon fry stocking - help Mass Wildlife in Western Mass this month

This sounds like it could be fun. From the website:

Help Restore Atlantic Salmon in Massachusetts!

Here's an opportunity to assist in an important restoration program in the Connecticut River Valley. We need all the help we can get to put the fish in the water!

Salmon Fry VolunteerWhat You Need to Do, Bring, etc.

Bring boots/waders & a lunch. You will get wet!!!Some waders will be available for loan. A change of clothes is a good idea. You will be walking on slippery stream and river beds, up and down steep banks in chest or hip waders so you should be in good physical condition.

Fry released in the river systems and their tributaries stay in the rivers for about two years before migrating to the ocean. When the salmon are about four years old, they will try to return to spawn. More info on salmon.

We meet at 8:00 a.m. and roll at 8:30 a.m.
For more info contact: Caleb Slater, MassWildlife

Call Caleb's voicemail the day/evening before to confirm the schedule! - (508) 389-6331

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Bruce Byers on Scientific American Frontiers

We happened to catch this segment on Scientific American Frontiers, a PBS show hosted by Alan Alda. UMass Amherst biologist Bruce Byers and his colleagues show their fieldwork in a power line clearing in Savoy State Park in western Mass. The show was focused on the "Call of the Wild". In the segment, "Songs of Love and Betrayal":
Alan and Byers attempt to sort out the soap opera-like mating habits of the chestnut-sided warbler.
Only the male chestnut-sided warbler sings, and only during mating season, so the singing seems to be associated with successfully defending a territory and attracting a mate. To check his hypothesis, Byers captures and bands the individuals within one territory. The colored leg bands will help him keep track of which bird is doing what.

Friday, January 22, 2010 - Cornell Proposes Model to Support Repository

From The Chronicle of Higher Education (January 21, 2010), a "Wired Campus" blog post from Jennifer Howard: "Cornell Library Proposes New Model to Keep arXiv Going."
Cornell University Library announced today that it wants the top institutional users of to help pay for the online scientific repository. "Keeping an open-access resource like arXiv sustainable means not only covering its costs, but also continuing to enhance its value, and that kind of financial commitment is beyond a single institution's resources," Oya Rieger, Cornell's associate university librarian for information technologies, said in a statement describing the new strategy.
It costs Cornell about $400,000 a year to maintain arXiv, according to Anne R. Kenney, university librarian at Cornell. The library's annual budget runs in the $40- to $50-million range. Some 200 institutions account for about 75 percent of the download traffic on arXiv, and it's that group that Cornell hopes will pony up first. The suggested contribution for the heaviest users is $4,000. Ms. Kenney says that most of the top 25 have said they will participate.
Broader questions are raised by this eminently reasonable proposal:
  • Is this a sustainable arrangement?
  • Should there be more governmental support for this kind of repository? And if so, what kind of precedents does this establish for other fields of study? (NSF already provides significant support. See
  • How can academic institutions avoid paying for the same material in multiple formats?
UMass Amherst was 159th of the 200 most common users of arXiv in 2009, and so might be expected to bear some of the cost. Academic librarians and others are actively discussing these and related issues of access to and funding of scholarly and scientific information. Cornell asserts that arXiv will continue to be open access. More to come.