About Andrew

I'm a health librarian in Sydney, Australia, who also happens to be a geocacher.

If you’re happy and you know it …

The theme for this month’s newCardigan GLAM Blog Club is “Happiness”, so here, in no particular order, are some of the things that make me happy.

I guess the most important thing I’m happy about is making the career switch into librarianship. As I’ve discussed previously, I started my working life in an environmental laboratory before moving into libraries. As far as career progression is concerned, I’m definitely happy with the change – I’ve been able to take advantage of more opportunities than I would have been able to if I’d stayed in the lab. I could happily spend the rest of my working life in libraries.

In my role as a librarian, I find happiness in other people’s happiness. In my previous role as an academic librarian as well as my current role as a hospital librarian, it’s the happiness shown by the people that I’ve helped which gives me satisfaction. This could be their thanks for helping them troubleshoot a problem they’ve been having with EndNote or for showing them how to search the databases effectively, or their appreciation for the literature search that I’ve completed for them. It’s this feeling that I’ve really been able to help someone which keeps me coming back to work each day.

Over the last few years I’ve done some casual tutoring in an information retrieval unit in a Masters-level information studies course. This experience of teaching future information professionals also makes me happy. It makes me feel good when I’m able to provide some real world examples and experience to help them see how the theory that they’re learning about can be applied.

I also find happiness in being busy. I currently have several projects and ideas that I’m working on outside of my job at the moment, and I do tend to start tinkering with something without waiting until I’ve completed one of the things I’m already working on. This means I end up with a few half-finished tasks that take longer to complete than they probably should. I’m making an effort this year to try and finish off (or stop working on) some of these things so that I can share the results. Even though I like to be busy, I’m also happy to switch off when required.

So, that’s what keeps me happy in my job. I’ll be interested to read what other people have to say about happiness.

Long live Boolean!

My former colleague Fiona has started a monthly journal club on her blog, and this month’s article about Boolean searching piqued my interest. Fiona posted a couple of questions to get the discussion going, and I thought I’d contribute my opinions to the discussion. In case you haven’t guessed from the title of the post, I’m a fan of Boolean searching. I’ll be wearing and swapping between two hats in these answers – my hospital librarian hat, and my tutor-in-a-unit-within-a-Masters-level-library-and-information-studies-course hat. Please note that these are my thoughts on the topic, and do not represent the views of my day-to-day employer or the university which employed me. Now, onto my answers.

Do you teach Boolean searching? Why/why not?

Firstly I should note that as a hospital librarian I don’t do any teaching of undergraduate students (the group who were the subject of the article). However, I do provide search training to hospital staff (usually in a one-on-one setting). In these sessions I do teach Boolean searching in a sense, but I usually don’t refer to it as “Boolean” and I don’t go into any great detail (and I don’t use any Venn diagrams). This is because we don’t have access to a discovery tool, so all our searching is done in medical databases (usually MEDLINE and EMBASE on the Ovid platform). These work best with structured searches.

The situation is different when I’m teaching in the Masters-level information retrieval unit. Boolean operators are covered in lectures and tutorials, and students are assessed on their use of Boolean in a couple of their assignments. I think it makes sense to teach future information professionals how to effectively use Boolean operators, because there are still situations (such as using subject-specific databases) where Boolean is the most effective way to construct a search.

If you teach Boolean only to some students, or in some circumstances, what is behind the decision to teach or not to teach?

As I mentioned above, the databases that I’m showing hospital staff how to use work best with Boolean searches, so that’s why I show them how to use the Boolean operators in their search. However I rarely use the term “Boolean” when I’m describing how to build a search; I’ll talk about combining the search terms using AND or OR. The database platform that I demonstrate (Ovid) has handy AND and OR buttons located on the search page, so it’s easy to say “now you can combine these terms using AND to retrieve the documents that contain all of these terms”. Some of the staff might say something like “Oh, you mean a Boolean search?”, but I don’t mention the B-word.

Do you think that there are any information retrieval advantages to using Boolean search strategies over natural language? When?

I believe that Boolean search strategies have the advantage of being able to construct a highly-targeted and specific search, especially when using subject headings. They also make it easy to combine the search terms in different ways or add in different terms if you need to tweak your search without having to type out a new search strategy each time.

Do you think that there are any pedagogical advantages to teaching Boolean search strategies as opposed to natural language? Why/why not?

One advantage that I see in using Boolean search strategies is that they encourage the searcher to think about their topic in more depth, rather than just typing a phrase into a search engine or database and hoping for the best. The search works better once the key concepts have been identified, along with any synonyms that can be included alternative search terms. This is the approach that I use as a tutor, and I think it’s effective in helping the students build an effective search strategy.

There’s an additional advantage that I think comes with using subject headings with Boolean operators. Although subject headings and the way that they’re structured can be daunting for someone not familiar with a subject, they can help them get a better understanding of the vocabulary of the subject.

What other search strategies do you teach either alongside or instead or Boolean? Why those?

It’s not a search technique per se, but the PICO framework is another tool that I show hospital staff. PICO is commonly used in the health sector, especially in evidence-based medicine, to help clinicians and researchers come up with a focussed clinical question. Because it consists of distinct components, it lends itself nicely to a structured search using Boolean operators i.e. P AND I AND C AND O.

Although some of the points that I’ve made aren’t directly relevant to the article, I hope this post has given you a bit of an insight into why I think Boolean searching is still worth using. Long live Boolean!

Learning goals for 2018

There are a few things on my “to-learn” list for 2018. I started working with most of them last year, and I want to learn more about them this year.

  • Wikidata and WikiCite

Up until now, the Wikimedia Foundation project that I’ve worked on the most has been Wikipedia. I’ve taken part in a couple of #1lib1ref campaigns, and looked at how Wikipedia can be used as an entry point to library collections (which I co-presented at the 2014 ALIA National Conference). My total number of edits on Wikipedia is close to 3,000; most of them are corrections to the formatting of references, so I’m very much a WikiGnome. I’ve recently become interested in Wikidata, and the semi-related project WikiCite. I’ve played around with adding items to Wikidata by exporting from Zotero (there’ll probably be an upcoming post about this), and I’ll be doing some more of this in the future. My main focus is on bibliographic data within Wikidata, so that’s why I’m interested in WikiCite. I would love to be able to apply the “create once, re-use often” principle to adding references to Wikipedia, as I sometimes find myself editing the same reference in multiple Wikipedia articles. WikiCite could be a way of reducing this sort of duplication of effort. I’m definitely not a developer on WikiCite, just an interested user.

  • R and Shiny

I started dabbling with the R programming language last year, and it’s something that I would like to try and learn more about. I’d like to investigate using Shiny to create a dashboard based on a script written with R. I’m thinking that it will involve altmetrics (maybe using the new Dimensions research information system), but I’ll have to see if my limited coding abilities will be enough for that.

  • A MOOC or two

I completed a couple of MOOCs last year (mostly on statistics and research data management), and I want to try and enrol in at least one this year. I started one on R a little while ago, so I might try and finish that one off. I’m sure I can find something out there that interests me.

I’ll keep you updated throughout the year as I (hopefully) cross these items off the list.

My #1lib1ref goal for 2018

Over the last couple of years, the Wikipedia Library has run the #1lib1ref campaign. The aim of this event is to encourage librarians to add just one reference to Wikipedia, in an effort to improve the quality and quantity of references used on Wikipedia. I participated for the first time last year by adding a reference to an article about the Second Fleet.

The 2018 event is running from 15th January – 3rd February, and I’ll be taking part again. This year I’ll be aiming to add one reference per day over the 20 days of the campaign. It’s easy to add a reference, and the #1lib1ref page has all the information you need to get started. Be warned, though, editing Wikipedia can get a little addictive!

From lab bench to reference desk

So how did I get here? Well it wasn’t a road to nowhere, that’s for sure (apologies to Talking Heads). I never planned to become a librarian, which I think is a common experience for many librarians. In high school my main interest was in science, so I ended up studying chemistry as my undergraduate degree. This led to me working in an environmental laboratory as my first job, where I spent most of my time working in client services rather than in the lab itself. The skills I picked up in this role stood me in good stead later – dealing with stressed clients, entering samples into the laboratory management system (a bit like cataloguing, I guess), and managing competing tasks and deadlines.

After four years of working in the lab, I started thinking about whether it was time to move on to something different. There were some ownership and management changes within the company, and the lab would be relocating from Sydney to Newcastle. I would have been happy to make the move north, but I wasn’t sure if the job was still right for me. I’d been the Chairperson of Safety Committee, so I started thinking about a career shift towards OH&S. I also had librarianship in mind as another potential new career; I’d enjoyed using the library when I was studying and thought I wouldn’t mind working in one. In the end the deciding factor was the length of each of the courses – if I remember correctly it was three years for a Masters in OH&S, or two years for a Graduate Diploma in librarianship. I took the shorter option, which I think was definitely the right one.

I started the Grad Dip through Charles Sturt University in the middle of the year, and quit my job in the lab at the end of the year. I didn’t have a job to go, but hoped for the best. Early in the year I applied for a job as a Shelver at Macquarie University Library (MUL). It was only part-time (20 hours a week), so I figured I’d have time to study as well. I was offered the job, and my career in libraries had begun.

I spent the next 12 years at MUL, and I feel very fortunate to have worked there. Most of that time was spent working as a Liaison Librarian for the Faculty of Science, although I had the opportunity to work in a range of different roles. I got to the point in my career that I did by saying “Yes, I think I can do that” if an opportunity presented itself. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time, but I had to make the decision to try something new.

That’s what led me to the next phase of my career. I felt that I needed a change of scene, and when a job came up at a nearby hospital library, I applied for it and got it. I’ve been able to use some of the skills I developed from working in an academic library, such as supporting EndNote and database searching, as well as learning new ones, such as e-resource management.

One thing that has allowed me to get to where I am now is a supportive leadership team. I have been lucky to work in two libraries where my team leaders and managers have always encouraged me to apply for secondments or new positions, or to present at conferences. They have also been open to suggestions for new services that the library could offer, and for trying new things. Unfortunately this isn’t the case in all libraries, so I do count myself as fortunate to have been in this position.

So that’s my story of how I got here. It’s not the most dramatic or exciting path, but it has worked for me. I’m glad I made the choice to become a librarian, and I think I’ll be working in libraries for a while yet.

500 finds, finally

As I mentioned earlier this year, we’d set ourselves a goal of reaching 500 geocache finds, ideally by our 10th anniversary of starting geocaching (our cache-a-versary). Well, I’m pleased to announce that we have finally cracked the 500 find milestone, and we managed to do it the day before our cache-a-versary.

The weather forecast wasn’t the best, so we’d decided to knock off the last 10 caches that we needed along a roadside powertrail close to home. It wasn’t the most scenic or memorable location, but it was going to be a quick and easy way to reach the milestone.

The view along the powertrail

As happens so often with us, we changed our minds. Our new plan was to finish the powertrail on 499 finds, and then re-visit a cache that we’d tried to find multiple times in order to make it our 500th find. Armed with a couple of clues, but also having noticed that the cache hadn’t been found since September, we arrived at the cache location with fairly low hopes of finding it. However, the geo-gods were on our side, as we managed to find the cache within a minute of starting the search. It was easy to see why a couple of other cachers had failed to find it, because the container blended in nicely with the surrounding environment. We replaced (and signed) the log, because the one in the cache was too damp and mouldy to unroll, took a few photos, and logged the find through the geocaching app.

Our 500th find


We then headed off for a celebratory lunch, and decided to try and find another couple of our nemesis caches. Like our 500th find, these other two ended up being quick finds. It was a nice way to finish the day. It’s taken us 10 years to get to 500 finds, but I think the next 500 won’t take as long.

Sensible Shoes’ 10 years of Geocaching – a Retrospective

Ten years ago today we found our first geocache at Little Beach on the Central Coast (GCTZ15 – now archived, unfortunately). We were a new couple and geocaching was a great activity to hang out together and have a few adventures along the way. Back when we started it took a bit more preparation and planning before setting out than it does now. We had to sit around the kitchen table of the house we hadn’t moved into yet with the laptop plugged into the dial-up modem and download the cache pages, and then transfer the coordinates onto our GPSr. If you wanted to refer to the cache pages while you were out caching you had to print them out before you left, and manually decode the hint if needed. There were no smartphones, so you couldn’t simply open an app and see if there were any caches nearby. Today, no forward planning is required as everything we need to check for, find, and log nearby caches – internet access, GPS, real-time logging of caches, and cache information – is available on our smartphones. For those cachers who love being the First To Find (FTF), this has meant that they can head straight off to a new cache as soon as they receive the notification email on their phone and log it as soon as they find it in order to claim their glory. This improved technology also means that when we get home there’s no need to try and remember all the details about our caching trip because everything’s already been logged. We found our first few caches using an HP ipaq PDA (which looked something like this – it worked OK, but definitely was not designed with caching in mind).

At our first find

The first cache we found

We were introduced to geocaching by a work colleague whose husband had done some caching, and they generously lent us a handheld GPS receiver (GPSr) (probably a Garmin etrex) for a couple of weeks. Our first experience with this “proper” GPSr was in Canberra and Melbourne a week after our first find. It was during this trip that we had two major revelations:

  1. We needed to get a GPSr
  2. We needed to change our geocaching.com account name.

We signed up as Fairy Spice (which made sense at the time, for a number of reasons) but after having to introduce ourselves to another cacher in Canberra, we knew this had to be changed. At the time there was no way to change our username; we had to create a new account and re-log all our first few finds. As librarian geocachers, we felt that Sensible Shoes was an appropriate name to use, and since then we’ve been comfortable introducing ourselves as this. We cache together as Sensible Shoes, and our logs identify each of us as Mr S or Ms S. We ended up purchasing a Garmin GPS 60 in those first few months of caching, and still use that (in conjunction with our smart phones) today.

That name didn’t last long

From these humble beginnings, the Shoes family has grown. Our sons are known as Shoes Junior and Little Shoes, and both of them had their accounts created and were taken our geocaching about a month after they were born. We also got one of our sisters involved in caching. Eight years later, Sensible Sis is now closing in on 900 finds. We’ve taken a few friends and family members geocaching, and have been successful in recruiting two families from our Mothers’ Group. It’s good to have some local friends who “get it”. However, our biggest success story converting a muggle to an obsessed geocacher is a fellow librarian who heard about caching at a conference presentation given by Mr S. She’s been caching now for 3 years and has over 3,500 finds and 72 hides to her name. As Mr S was presenting at the conference and describing how geocaching can be used as an educational and promotional tool, Ms S was live-tweeting her finding of our cache (GC3K05C) (she hadn’t been involved in the placing of it). The cache involved is a “Mystery or Puzzle” cache, and it has been very positively received by the local geocaching community. Mr S has written a journal article describing how and why the cache was placed. We’ve placed four other caches, however they’ve all been archived for various reasons and are no longer active.

Shoes Junior and Little Shoes out caching

We’ve managed to find 504 caches over the last ten years, and 15 of these have been Event caches. Several of these events have been great fun to attend. These include the three Geotreks that we’ve completed, and the three Worldwide Flash Mobs (WWFM) that we’ve flashed at. The WWFM was the brainchild of Sonny and Sandy from the Podcacher podcast, and is still going strong after ten years. Another geocaching podcast we enjoyed listening to was the Geotalk podcast, hosted by Darren Osborne, a.k.a. Spindoc Bob. Darren was the driving force behind the formation of the Geocaching NSW association, and we met him and his wife Renee at the initial planning meeting for the group. Darren also organised the first couple of WWFM events in Sydney, which we attended. Mr S attended the first Sydney WWFM event alone, because Ms S was resting in hospital prior to the arrival of our first son. All three of us attended the next WWFM event at Luna Park. Mr S had the opportunity to go on a geocaching day trip with Darren and a couple of other cachers in September 2013. Sadly, Darren passed away from brain cancer in January 2015. Although we didn’t know him very well, his passing was deeply felt by us since we identified so closely with him and his young family. Vale Spindoc Bob.

WWFM at Luna Park

In the same way that we related to the Osbornes, Sonny and Sandy from sunny San Diego have also found a place in our hearts. We had been regular listeners to their weekly podcast, Podcacher, when we learned of the arrival of their son Sean while we were pregnant with our first son. Ever since, we have been amused by the similarities between Sean and our 8 year old as they grow up. Mr S has kept up with listening to Podcacher ever since we discovered the podcast almost 10 years ago, and has contributed various news items from time to time. One of these was our most significant geocaching moments from the last ten years. It was the time when Mr S proposed to Ms S at our first FTF. It was nice that he was able to do this at a spot close to our home, and no, we didn’t go on to have a geocaching-themed wedding.

We’ve found that geocaching is a great activity to do while we’re on holidays. We’ve cached as far north as Moreton Island, south to Melbourne, east to San Francisco, but only as far west as Canberra. Port Stephens and Canberra have been a couple of good destinations which combine sightseeing and geocaching. We found our 100th cache at Port Macquarie and our 200th at Port Stephens. On our first couple of trips to Canberra we stopped at several rest area caches on the way. The next time we did the trip without stopping, and we were pleasantly surprised at how quick the trip was. Having said that, we’ve recently discovered that the rest area caches have been replaced, so we have the opportunity to find them all over again. It’s been fun introducing our two boys to geocaching. Our eldest (Shoes Junior) had a Travel Bug on his stroller which we took to several geocaching events. He has recently enjoyed finding some local Harry Potter-themed caches and helping to solve some puzzle caches which have a Minecraft theme. Lately, Little Shoes (our youngest) has taken an increased interest in going out caching, perhaps influenced by the fact that we’ve taken to having ice creams to celebrate milestones. It is ironic that when we cached alone, before the geokids came along, we were finding many caches holding travel bugs and kid-friendly swaps. It seems these are becoming a rarity these days, even though there are many more geocaches to find these days. As for the geokids, despite many years of geocaching experience, they are yet to master the art of stealth. “DID YOU FIND IT?!?!”

Shoes Junior’s Travel Bug

Most geocachers, who have been caching consistently for 10 years, would expect to have found far more than the 500 finds we have achieved … but as the saying goes “it’s not about the numbers”. Although geocaching has held our interest steadily for the past decade it has not been a major focus for our family. We enjoy having it as an activity to fall back on when convenient, but we’ve never felt the need to chase the numbers or achieve long running streaks as other have (even though we’ve been impressed by their ability to do so). Likewise, almost all of our finds have been within the 3.5/3.5 difficulty/terrain matrix, with only a very few outliers. We prefer to be challenged by tricky puzzles rather than extreme terrain. Now that the kids are older, and technology has made geocaching more convenient than ever before, we expect to enjoy many years of geocaching adventures ahead. As Sonny and Sandy would say, “Keeep onn cachin’!”.

On the powertrail towards 500 finds

At our 500th find

Star Wars in the medical literature

To mark Star Wars Day today (May the 4th), I thought I’d do a post looking at how Star Wars and its characters have been written about in the medical literature. I did the same thing a couple of years ago with other pop culture icons – Monty Python, Harry Potter, and Buffy.

For my Star Wars search I used PubMed, and carried out a simple keyword search (funnily enough there aren’t any MeSH headings for Star Wars). A search for “star wars” returned 91 results (which is more than Monty Python, Harry Potter, and Buffy), with the most recent being published last month and the oldest in July 1980. Pretty much all the articles from the 1980s, and most from the early 1990s, were discussing the missile defence system proposed by US President Ronald Reagan in 1983. The program’s official name was the Strategic Defense Initiative, but it became popularly known as “Star Wars”. The article from 1980 seems to be the first which discusses the movie, although I haven’t been able to track down an online copy to check this. It’s called “Star Wars: the modern developmental fairy tale“, and it was published in the Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic.

The most common aspect of Star Wars which is discussed in the medical literature seems to be a psychiatric analysis of the characters (unfortunately not many of the articles are open access, so I can’t link to the fulltext). Examples of these articles include “Psychopathology in a Galaxy Far, Far Away: the Use of Star Wars’ Dark Side in Teaching” (link), “Darth Vulcan? In support of Anakin Skywalker suffering from borderline personality disorder” (link), and “The fall and redemption of people and systems: potential lessons from the “star wars” saga” (link). It also seems popular to refer to Star Wars when discussing a treatment which involves using lasers e.g. “The erbium laser: the “Star Wars” of dentistry” (link).

As well as Star Wars the movie I also searched for some of the characters. Here are some of the things I learnt by doing this:

  • Researchers at MIT have developed the MIT-skywalker, which is a device used in gait therapy. A photo of the beta prototype is available in this open access article.
  • There is a fruit fly protein called Skywalker (sky), which has something to do with neurons and synaptic vesicles (more details in this open access article).
  • There is a method which is used to test the efficacy of potential anti-helminthic drugs (helminths are parasitic worms) called the larval exsheathment inhibition assay (LEIA). (link) I guess in Return of the Jedi, Princess Leia was a pretty effective treatment for Jabba the Hutt (he wasn’t a helminth, but he was pretty worm-like).
  • Several species have been named after Chewbacca. In New Britain (one of the islands of Papua New Guinea), there is a species of flightless weevil called Trigonopterus chewbacca (described and pictured in this open access article). There is also a moth in Mexico called Wockia chewbacca Adamski – I guess Wockia sounds a bit like Wookiee.
  • When it comes to developing the name of a clinical trial or procedure, Darth Vader seems to be a popular inspiration. Evidence of this includes the Vascular Access Decisions in the Emergency Room study protocol (link), the Vacuum-Assisted Dermal Recruitment method for closing wounds (link), and the tongue-in-cheek Value of Audio Devices in the Endoscopy Room randomised controlled trial (link). This last study found that endoscopists who listened to Star Wars music performed an endoscopy better than those who listened to popular music.
  • There is a protein in the Red flour beetle called C3PO, and several proteins from different organisms which are called R2D2.

It was interesting to find out how Star Wars is represented in the medical literature. maybe next time I’ll look at a different discipline. May the Fourth be with you!

You’ve got to be in it to win it

The purpose of this post is to increase my chance of winning a new GPSr – the Garmin Oregon 750T. Our current GPSr (a Garmin GPS 60, which we bought back in 2007 when we started caching) has served us well and is continuing to do so. However, I couldn’t pass up the chance to win a brand spanking new GPSr.

The competition is being run by the Podcacher podcast, which I listen to each week. They provide a great program with lots of stories, tips, and contests. To help ensure that they’re able to keep producing their show each week, I’ve signed up as a supporting member to help with their costs.

Their current contest simply involves filling out a form on their website to get an entry in the draw. In order to get additional entries you can tweet about the contest, visit their Facebook page, or write a blog post. At the moment there are nearly 1,500 entries (with 22 days left in the contest), so there’s plenty of interest. Hopefully I’ll be drawn as the winner!

Our geocaching resolutions for 2017

Well, it’s a new year which means it’s time to make some resolutions for the next 12 months. On the geocaching front, there are a couple of things that we’d like to achieve this year. The main one is to finally reach 500 finds. We made it to 400 in January last year and are currently on 431. Ideally we would like to get there by 20th May, which is our 10 year cache-a-versary.

To help with reaching this milestone, we’ve set ourselves the goal of averaging at least one find a day for the month of January. That will get us to at least 449. We’ve done well so far (13 finds after eight days), so hopefully we’ll stay on track.

It should be a year for family geocaching milestones for us. Our youngest son should reach 100 finds (he’s currently on 95), and our eldest should get to 200 (he’s on 186 at the moment). I don’t think we’ll be able to synchronise our finds for the same cache, but it will be nice to celebrate three milestones this year.