Thursday, July 30, 2015

The fate of "Happy Birthday" hangs in the balance

Here at the library, we have been following the legal status of the "Happy Birthday" song with great interest.

Those less-enmeshed in copyright foibles than we are may not be aware that the "world's most popular song" has actually been at the center of a lot of controversy. There's a reason that the servers at so many restaurants can't sing the old standby anymore-- their employers are afraid of being slapped with a copyright violation lawsuit from Warner/Chappell.

Now, it seems, thanks to a couple of dogged attorneys and our neighbors over at the University of Pittsburgh libraries, you may soon be able to sing at your niece's birthday without fear of litigation. More information over at Hollywood Reporter:

The story contains a possible coverup of evidence, no less. Happy pre-Friday!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

How journals got so darn expensive

Wired recently published an interview with a library science researcher in which they asked about the current state of scientific literature (hard and social sciences), how we got here, and why that is a problem for researchers, students, librarians, and everyone else.

It's very readable and worth a couple of minutes.

People will often ask us why we don't have a subscription to X journal. Most libraries would love to have a subscription to everything, but for the vast majority of us, it's just not feasible. As the cost of the "must-have" titles ratchets ever skyward, libraries around the world are forced to either expand their budgets drastically or to make difficult decisions regarding their "nice-to-have" subscriptions.

The balancing act for scholarly publishing today is in finding a model that rewards good researchers with the credit they deserve while weeding out the poorly-done papers. Then, access costs need to be affordable enough for institutions and individuals to actually see that good research and give it the wider audience it deserves.

Hopefully open-access publishing will continue to grow, improve, and gain prestige. Trailblazing journals like PLOS ONE are demonstrating that "free to read" can also be "high-quality" and "impressive on a CV."

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

If it's too good to be true...

Have you heard that eating chocolate can accelerate your weight-loss program? I have. The finding has been widely reported in all sorts of well-known publications, ranging from Prevention and Shape magazines to Huffington Post and Daily Mail Australia. This was discovered by a team of German researchers who conducted a study and found that those who followed a low-carb diet including a small daily chocolate bar lost weight faster than those following a low-carb diet alone.

The only problem?

It was all a setup.

The lead researcher, Dr. Johannes Bohannon, is actually Dr. John Bohannon. He's a journalist, and his Ph.D. is in the molecular biology of bacteria, not human nutrition. He'll tell you more about how and why he pulled off this huge "gotcha" here:

NPR does a good rundown of the whole story and some of the lessons we can take away from it, but let's look at a few factors that even a non-scientist like me could catch if we had looked into the claims a little bit:

  • How many people participated in the study? Only 15 people actually completed this study. As Bohannon points out in his "confession," most scientists will look with suspicion on any study without at least 30 subjects. 
  • How long was the study? This one only lasted three weeks. Has your weight fluctuated a bit in the last three weeks? Mine has. Things like how much you've been sweating recently, how much water you've been drinking, and what point you're at in your menstrual cycle can all affect weight in the short-run.
  • Did the researchers control for age, activity level, gender, or, well, anything? It doesn't seem so.

So, right away, this is a poorly-designed study. Also, there's the small matter of the lead researcher, Dr. Johannes Bohannon, not seeming to have any Google presence at all prior to the publication of this study. That's odd.

So, without knowing very much science at all, and without having even heard of "p-hacking," we could have easily found enough that we COULD understand to be skeptical of these claims.

The problem is that so many busy reporters latched onto the press release without bringing any critical thinking to bear on the study itself. This is one of the reasons that we stress the importance of evaluating sources when we talk about information and research skills. Even a publication with "journal" or "archives" in the title isn't necessarily reliable. And certainly, it seems, we can't rely on frazzled journalists to do our evaluation for us.

Now I want a Hershey bar...

Public domain images from

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

What do we do all summer?

Summer is project time for the library staff! The whole campus slows down and gives those of us who remain behind a chance to tackle some of our more detail-oriented or extensive projects.

You'll find Mrs. Koveleskie attending a lot of webinars about configuring and launching a new search tool that we hope to unveil in August (stay tuned!).

I'm reviewing and polishing LibGuides and lesson plans, evaluating how we crunch instruction statistics, and drafting new videos to help explain some thorny information concepts.

One BIG part of the summer rhythm at the library is the annual inventory of our print collection.

If you've been down to the O'Hara Room recently, you may have seen these signs or heard the beeps of the scanner. 

Each book on the shelf is scanned and checked against a computer list of which books are supposed to be where. This is how we locate those pesky mis-shelved things and get them back to their rightful locations. It also gives us a chance to catch books that are in poor physical condition and make sure they get a trip to the book hospital (Mrs. Ciarochi's desk). 

Making sure that the books on the shelf will match the catalog you see on your iPad screen is still a vital part of running the library!

We'll eventually work our way back to the stacks behind The Reading Room, making O'Hara the quieter space, but it'll take a while for us to get there. We still have thousands upon thousands of books in print!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Summer Library Hours

MAY 16 – AUGUST 24, 2015

Monday—Friday                                                              8:00 a.m.  -  4:50 p.m.
Saturday                                                                            CLOSED
Sunday                                                                              CLOSED


Monday—Thursday                                                        8:00 a.m.  -  5:50 p.m.
Friday                                                                              8:00 a.m.  -  4:50 p.m.
Saturday                                                                          9:00 a.m.  -  4:50 p.m.
Sunday                                                                              CLOSED


May 23                        Saturday                                        CLOSED
May 25                        Monday                                         CLOSED
                  July 3                           Friday                                           CLOSED
July 4                           Saturday                                        CLOSED
                  July 31                         Friday                                           8:00 a.m.  -  Noon     
                  August 17                    Monday                                        CLOSED
                  August 18 –21             Tuesday—Friday                         8:00 a.m.  -  4:50 p.m.                                     

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Ars Gratia Artis

We in the Reeves Learning Commons are happy to present our first display of a student's artwork.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Watch This: American Splendor

A bi-weekly series featuring a recommendation of a movie available in the Reeves Memorial Library DVD collection

American Splendor (2003)
Written and directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini

We are living in a golden age of comic book movies.  With recent hits like Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), and upcoming releases like this summer's Avengers: Age of Ultron and next year's Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, not to mention small-screen hits like Arrow and Daredevil, comic book superheroes are everywhere these days.  These films and television series are highly entertaining and full of undeniably appealing spectacle, and it could certainly be argued that several of the comic book movies from the past decade represent the pinnacle of quality for the superhero genre.  However, one of the best and most unique of all cinematic comic book adaptations is American Splendor (2003), a film that focuses not on a superhero fighting an epic battle against evil, but rather on an ordinary guy living his miserable, ordinary life.  That may not sound like the stuff of comics, but as the film's tagline reminds us, "ordinary life is pretty complex stuff."

The film's "hero" is Harvey Pekar, a jazz fan and avid record collector who works as a file clerk in a Cleveland VA hospital.  He is dour and pessimistic, unkempt-looking, and lives in a shabby apartment overflowing with LPs and books.  Look up the word "schlub" in a dictionary, and you'll find a picture of Harvey Pekar.

What makes this film even more unique and engaging is that, as we learn during the opening credit sequence, Harvey Pekar is a real person.  The film is based primarily on Pekar's comic book series "American Splendor," which he wrote based on his own life: the comic follows a character named Harvey Pekar, who works a dull, thankless job, and is frustrated with the travails of everyday existence.  Pekar is played in the film by the great Paul Giamatti, but the real Harvey Pekar appears onscreen as well, and also provides narration, commenting on the film's storyline ("if you're the kind of person lookin' for romance, or escapism, or some fantasy figure to save the day, guess what: you got the wrong movie") and the casting of Giamatti ("he don't look nothin' like me, but whatever").

Early in the film, in what we are told is the year 1975, we learn that Harvey's second wife is divorcing him (she's tired of their "plebeian lifestyle"), and that he has lost his voice due to a nodule on his vocal cord, the result of constant shouting matches with his soon-to-be ex-wife.  We also learn that, back in the 1960s, Harvey befriended a young artist and fellow record collector named Robert Crumb, who would go on to become a leading underground comic artist.  Harvey decides to write his own comics, with stories about the real-life problems that the everyman must deal with (riding the bus, washing dishes, gluing his coat so it can last through another winter), and Crumb agrees to illustrate the first issue.  Suddenly, Harvey's voice comes back.

Harvey achieves some success with his American Splendor comics and his published jazz reviews, but remains desperately lonely.  That all changes when he meets Joyce Brabner (portrayed by Hope Davis), a fellow comic fan who, after a semi-disastrous first date, proposes that they "just skip the whole courtship thing and get married."  They are a perfect match (Harvey's hypochondria finds its equal in that of Joyce, who asks for aspirin on their first date, not because she has a headache, but because she wants to avoid one).  Joyce wants kids, but Harvey, who has had a vasectomy, is opposed.  Joyce becomes depressed, but later finds some meaning in her life by traveling overseas to help needy children.  After Harvey is diagnosed with cancer, she decides that they should write a comic about his experiences as a way to help him get through the treatment process (the resulting graphic novel, Our Cancer Year, provides the remaining source material for the film).  The illustrator they hire brings along his young daughter, Danielle, and Joyce forms an immediate connection with her.  After the comic is finished, she continues to live with Harvey and Joyce, who raise her as their own.

The film is a dazzling mix of narrative forms, blending fictional biopic and documentary elements together with comic-style visual schemes and animation to tell Pekar's story.  The opening credits appear in a sequence of shots housed within cells on a comic book page, as Giamatti's Harvey moves on foot along the streets of his Cleveland neighborhood, and we see the various ways different illustrators have drawn him over the course of the comic series.  Later in the film, Harvey's cancer ordeal is shown through a series of shots of Giamatti's Harvey intercut with images from Our Cancer Year.  These sequences not only lend the film a more dynamic narrative style, they also serve as a reminder of the film's comic origins.  The non-fiction sequences have the same effect, providing another layer to the storytelling without ever feeling intrusive, and illuminating just how well-cast the film is.  We see not only the real Harvey in the film, but also the real Joyce and Danielle, and Harvey's real-life co-workers (including the endearing, self-proclaimed "nerd" Toby Radloff, uncannily portrayed in the fictional sequences by 30 Rock standout Judah Friedlander).

The film ends with an unexpectedly touching scene from real life, and it is clear by the film's conclusion how remarkable this rendering of Harvey's story is.  Harvey, in all of his various incarnations, is a decidedly unpleasant curmudgeon.  It is no surprise that his first two wives found it so difficult to be with him.  And yet, he manages to overcome cancer and build a family with Joyce and Danielle, who love him despite his "gloom and doom" perspective on life.  It is far more affecting and relatable than any superhero story.

Two brief postscripts:

1. Sadly, the real Harvey Pekar passed away in 2010, leaving behind a legacy as one of the most celebrated and groundbreaking figures in Anerican comics.

2. I cannot recommend highly enough the great documentary Crumb (1994), a brilliant and fascinating look at the life and work of artist Robert Crumb.  It is also available in the Reeves Memorial Library DVD collection.