ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Bonnie Swoger

Continuing with the tradition from last three years, I will occasionally post interviews with some of the participants of the ScienceOnline2011 conference that was held in the Research Triangle Park, NC back in January 2011. See all the interviews in this series here.

Today I chat with Bonnie Swoger (blog, Twitter)

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?

I am a science librarian at a small public liberal arts college in central New York. I started out as a geologist, completing a masters degree without really knowing what I wanted to do with it. I spent a few years teaching introductory geology before realizing that what I was really interested in was how scientists communicate with each other. Through the eyes of my students, I was able to see that this world of scientific communication (which I took for granted) was difficult for some of them to access and understand. I decided that I could help students navigate this world as a librarian.

What is taking up the most of your time and passion these days? What are your goals?

My regular work day consists of answering reference questions (most of the science-related ones come my way), teaching undergraduate students about the nature of the scientific literature (and how to access it) and working with faculty. At the moment, I am exploring ways of convincing faculty who are not immersed in science blogs and other “new” forms of scientific communication to pay attention to these developments. In turn, I work with these faculty to teach their students about how scientists communicate – including traditional methods and new-fangled technologies.

What aspect of science communication and/or particular use of the Web in science interests you the most?

I am very interested in the slowly changing nature of peer review (open review, post publication review, etc.). Most researchers still rely (and teach their students to rely) on the traditional system. They are very wary of some of the new experiments. I would like to see faculty be open to these developments so that they can teach their students about them. The peer review system will change – it isn’t set in stone – and it may get more complicated for undergraduate students to recognize “quality” work. At the moment, they typically have one litmus test – peer review. Even though that test isn’t failsafe, it’s easy to apply. As the peer review system changes, professors will have to educate their students on how things work. I think that librarians can be a useful partner in this education.

When and how did you first discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any cool science blogs by the participants at the Conference?

I discovered science blogs prior to my career switch, when I was teaching geology. The discussions about “Web 2.0” and “Science 2.0” were part of what encouraged me to pursue librarianship – I wanted to help students learn about these new developments. I am especially fond of the thoughtful blogs written by some outstanding science librarians Christina Pikas and John Dupuis, both of whom are ScienceOnline participants.

How does (if it does) blogging figure in your work? How about social networks, e.g., Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook and others? How do you intergrate all of your online activity into a coherent whole? Do you find all this online activity to be a net positive (or even a necessity) in what you do?

I started blogging about two years ago, just after I got involved with Twitter. For me, the blog forces me to think through various issues that arise in scholarly communication, publishing and education. I can also reach out to science faculty in my quest to convince them to spend time teaching their students about scientific communication – don’t assume they just pick it up as they go. Twitter has become a very important source of professional development for me, as well as introduced me to some wonderful colleagues. Although there aren’t a lot of faculty at my institution who use it, I can follow practicing scientists and keep up with publishing trends. I learn about a lot of new resources and developing news stories via Twitter, often making me the most informed person in the room regarding scholarly communication.

What was the best aspect of ScienceOnline2011 for you? Any suggestions for next year?

My favorite aspect of this conference is the diverse group of folks who attend. Scientists, teaching faculty, journalists and librarians rarely sit down and talk about how scientists communicate with one another. It allows each group to gain a better understanding of the processes, strengths and limitations of the other groups. Because I concentrate on undergraduate education, I would love to see a conversation with teaching faculty, librarians and students about strategies to teach undergraduates about science communication (new and old).

Is there anything that happened at this Conference – a session, something someone said or did or wrote – that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, or to your science reading and writing?

For me, the most interesting discussions at ScienceOnline2011 centered around alternative metrics for measuring scholarly “impact”. At the conference, scientists and scholars who were engaged in new forms of scholarly communication argued passionately that the Impact Factor was horrible and everyone seemed to be in agreement that new metrics were needed. Back at my institution, the case for new metrics isn’t as clear. There is still a distrust among many rank-and-file researchers about blogs and data sharing and pre-prints as legitimate scientific work. While they don’t love the impact factor, they don’t see the pressing need to develop new metrics because the things they may measure (downloads, bookmarks, etc.) aren’t as tried and true as citations. There seems to be a dichotomy in the science community – those who are actively engaged in newer forms of scholarship and those who just aren’t interested. Before any alternative metrics can gain acceptance, a large portion of the scientific community may still need to be convinced of the importance of what the alt metrics are measuring.

Thank you so much for the interview. I hope to see you again in Raleigh in January.