Browser Extensions for Link Checks, Accessibility, and Research

Browser extensions can help with all sorts of daily tasks, speeding up mundane work like link checking or finding research articles.  James Day at Library Technology Launchpad describes 6 Chrome Browser Extensions Every Librarian Needs, such as DOI Resolver or Google Scholar Button for research, Grammarly to proofread online writing, or Wayback Machine for viewing archived webpages.  I regularly use browser extensions myself (usually in Google Chrome) for link checking, and I’ve learned about a few interesting extensions for checking accessibility and for locating and organizing research articles.  Here’s a quick rundown:

check
Viewing valid, redirected, and broken links through Check My Links.
  • Link checking: I do periodic manual link checks for some online resources, and usually I’ll start the check by running the Check My Links extension to highlight which links on the page are live, redirecting, or dead.  I always try to manually click through all links (since sometimes a valid redirect may still lead to a page where the desired content is no longer available), but opening every link one at a time is an enormous pain.  Thankfully, there are browser extensions like Linky or Linkclump, where you can highlight or select a section of a webpage and automatically open all links within that selected area in separate tabs.  This can save a lot of time.
access
Accessibility testing for a webpage using WAVE.
  • Accessibility testing: When sharing online material from a government resource, the content needs to meet Section 508 requirements for accessibility.  The content needs to be equally accessible to anyone with disabilities (visual, auditory, cognitive, etc.), which means that content creators need to keep a number of guidelines in mind to make sure their content is fully compliant.  The browser extension WAVE can be used to evaluate accessibility of web content, and it will highlight any errors or alerts for accessibility issues on a webpage.  It will even identify issues with color contrast which may be hard for users with visual limitations to see.  See the Medium article Free web accessibility tools round-up  by Carlin Scuderi for a great list of accessibility check tools (including a few more Google Chrome extensions).
OA
Options menu for Unpaywall.
  • Research tools: 
    • Unpaywall: One browser extension I keep hearing about on library listservs, Twitter, and blogs is Unpaywall, which automatically searches for open access versions of paywalled journal articles.  When viewing an article on a publisher website, the extension automatically searches across “thousands of open-access repositories worldwide” to find full text (and legally uploaded) versions of the article (check their FAQ section to learn more). Unpaywall sounds like a very helpful tool for a librarian or researcher who needs an article from a journal that their institution doesn’t subscribe to, but who doesn’t have the time to wait to receive the article through inter-library loan.
    • Refigure: I recently learned about this tool from INFOdocket.  This extension seems more geared towards scientific researchers than librarians, but it was just too interesting not to mention. Refigure “aggregates and organizes different scientific figures amongst users”, which sounds like an innovative way for researchers to collaborate, organize, and share a more visual type of research data that may be overlooked in traditional databases.

There are so many browser extensions available (just in the Chrome web store alone!), it can be difficult to separate the useful from the useless.  That’s why I’m grateful for librarians on Twitter, library news resources, and listservs (like MEDLIB-L) for the many helpful recommendations on new extensions to try.

Advertisements

Finding the Latest Library News

news.png

Trying to keep up with industry news in the library field can be overwhelming, especially with so many online resources readily available.  I usually get my more niche medical library news from Medical Library Association publications, NLM blogs (blog links under “More Options” section), and NNLM blogs.  I also want to stay up-to-date on broader news in the library field, especially regarding online information resources and any major policy or funding changes.

Somewhere between the  quarterly/monthly releases of professional association publications and the never-ending unorganized stream of news from social media, there has to be some sort of daily/weekly curated news source to check for general library/information professional news.  I’ve found two free online resources that I like to check on a daily basis, Information Today and INFOdockets:

  • Information Today NewsBreaks and Weekly News Digest: I’ve been checking this page a few times per week throughout my entire career. Weekly News Digest from Information Today, Inc. usually updates twice per week with five or six articles about database news, online resource updates, policy issues impacting the library field (especially copyright), and other news relevant to all types of information professionals.  About once a week, a NewsBreaks article is posted which focuses on more in-depth analysis of current industry topics (the latest NewsBreak from August 15 was on “Free Speech by Committee: Social Media, Extremism, and the First Amendment“).  You can sign up to receive this content in the weekly email newsletter NewsLink.
  • INFOdocket: I just recently started checking INFOdocket (part of Library Journal) on a daily basis after finding out about the site on Twitter.  The site is compiled and edited by Gary Price and Shirl Kennedy and is usually updated multiple time per day.  INFOdocket features summaries and links to reports related to library issues, updates on research tools, news roundups of blogs and articles relevant to the library field, and much more.

One additional site that I like to check regularly is American Libraries Magazine.  It is a publication of the American Library Association, but many of the articles on the website are currently free to access.  The articles are high quality and address important current issues, like how the opioid epidemic is impacting public libraries.  The homepage features a great “Latest Library Links” widget, which offers a news feed of library-related articles.  You can also access back issues of the American Libraries Direct e-newsletter, which is sent roughly biweekly and features recent library-related news.  Only ALA members can actually subscribe to get the e-newsletter by email, though.

If anyone has other recommendations on free library news resources, please let me know!

Tools to Visualize Local Health Data

Have you ever wondered which issues have the biggest impact on public health in your community, or how your county’s public health ranks in comparison to other counties in your state?  Here are two helpful tools for visualizing and comparing county-level health data, found through the list of County and Local Health Data tools at PHPartners.org (I originally learned about these tools through the free NNLM class Health and Wellness @ the Library: The Essentials of Providing Consumer Health Services).

CHSI 2015

CHSI 2015 (created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) describes itself as “an interactive web application that produces health profiles for all 3,143 counties in the United States.”  Select a state and county to view an “at-a-glance” summary (under the “Summary Comparison Report” section) on “how the selected county compares with peer counties” (better, moderate or worse) “on the full set of Primary Indicators” (arranged under categories Mortality, Morbidity, Healthcare Access and Quality, Health Behaviors, Social Factors, and Physical Environment).

cdc1
The Summary Comparison Report for Montgomery County, MD at CHSI 2015.

CHSI 2015 also allows you to view county demographics data and county-level data for specific Primary Indicators.  For instance, the age adjusted Alzheimer’s disease death rate for Montgomery County, MD is 13.3 per 100,000 residents, while the US median rate is 27.3.

Capture
Data on Alzheimer’s disease death rate for Montgomery County, MD at CHSI 2015.

County Health Rankings and Roadmaps

County Health Rankings and Roadmaps (created by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and University of Wisconsin) measure “the health of nearly all counties in the nation and rank them within states” using “county-level measures from a variety of national and state data sources.”  Check their Our Approach page for more information on their data sources and ranking methods.

Try searching by state from the County Health Rankings homepage, and then choose a county to view the Rankings data for the county (compared against overall state-level data and its ranking compared to other counties in the state)  under categories including Health Outcomes (Length of Life and Quality of Life) and Health Factors (Health Behaviors, Clinical Care, Social and Economic Factors, and Physical Environment).  Choose the “Show areas of strength” checkbox at the top of the screen to highlight public health factors where the county has a strong ranking, or choose “Show areas to explore” to highlight categories where the county has a weaker ranking.

rankings
Viewing County Health Rankings data for Montgomery County, MD.

Choose the “Compare Counties” option to create charts comparing the public health data of two or more counties (including counties in different states).  For instance, the screenshot below shows a chart comparing County Health Rankings data for Calvert, MD, Fairfax, VA, and Montgomery, MD.

compare
Comparing County Health Rankings data for three different counties.

I also want to highlight a website specifically for my local county (Montgomery County, Maryland) called Healthy Montgomery, which allows users to create customized health dashboards for their local zip code.

From the Healthy Montgomery homepage, choose the Community Health Dashboards option under the Find Data drop-down menu.  You can then choose to view county health dashboards based on a variety of health indicator measurements (like Healthy People 2020 or Maryland SHIP 2017).  You can also build a custom dashboard and filter to view only specific indicators, view data for a specific location (zip codes within Montgomery County), filter by comparisons (like Healthy People 2020 or Maryland SHIP), filter by subgroups (like age, gender, or race), or filter by data source.

The dashboards include helpful icons beside measurement data to indicate if the measurement is higher or lower than county/US average, or if the measurement has an upwards or downwards trend when compared to prior values.

healthymontg
Customized dashboard from Healthy Montgomery for Silver Spring, MD (zip code 20910).

While the county-level health data tools like CHSI 2015 and County Health Rankings are useful for getting a general idea about public health in larger communities, I hope all counties will eventually have websites like Healthy Montgomery available to view health status (and local health disparities) at a more granular, neighborhood-based level.

From Submarine Blueprints to Intricate Fruit: Digital Collections of Historic Images, Science and Medicine

Library collections often extend far beyond just books and journals, and today’s digital collections offer free access to all types of multimedia.  Online collections from the Library of Congress include photos/prints, manuscripts, video, audio, maps, and even archived websites. One of my favorite types of digital collections are historic images in the science and medicine field.  It can be fascinating to see catalog images for intricate machines from a century ago, infographics from the 1950s about medical careers, or beautifully detailed watercolors of plants.  Here are a few of my favorite places to look for historic science and medicine image collections:

Library of Congress Digital Collections (Science and Technology) – View 19 collections, such as Architecture, Design & Engineering Drawings. This collection “covers about 40,000 drawings (described in more than 3,900 catalog records), spanning 1600 to 1989” and includes a wide range of architectural and engineering designs, such as a submarine design from 1806.

3g06843v
[Submarine (“Submarine Vessel, Submarine Bombs and Mode of Attack”) for the United States government. Cock cavity and wheel details for “plunging boat”]
National Library of Medicine Digital Collections – I recommend exploring the almost 70,000 images within the Images from the History of Medicine collection.  Browse health-related advertisements, educational material, images of patients and healthcare professionals, medical illustrations, etc. from before 1600 to the present.  For example, check out this infographic from 1957 about the growing field of health service occupations.

ajaxp
Health service occupations: a growing field of employment for both men and women

Smithsonian Libraries Digital Collections – One of my favorite collections, which I first became familiar with when hunting for online trade literature collections for patent searches, is the Instruments for Science, 1800-1914 collection.  This collection lets you browse through catalogs for scientific instruments and machinery from over a century ago.  Here’s an instrument called a “Moist Chamber” from an 1899 catalog, which was used to “keep a muscle and nerve preparation damp during the experiment” (yikes).

smith
Moist Chamber (pg 29)

United States Department of Agriculture Special Collections – Some science images are absolute works of art, like the watercolors of fruits and nuts from the USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection.  This painting of strawberries from 1914 is one beautiful example.

agr
Fragaria: Pine Apple

This is only just scratching the surface of online image collections…if you have a lot of time to kill, visit the British Library Flickr page, which offers over a million public domain images scanned from old books.

Legacy of Beall’s List: Ongoing Efforts to Identify Predatory Journals

The sudden disappearance of Beall’s List of potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers was one of the more dramatic sagas I’ve come across in the scientific publishing/librarian fields.  Here’s a bare-bones timeline of the story (cobbled together from No More ‘Beall’s List’ by Carl Straumsheim, Beall’s article What I learned from predatory publishers, and the Wikipedia page on predatory open-access publishing):

  • between 2008 and 2010: Jeffery Beall, librarian and researcher at University of Colorado Denver, first posted his list of predatory publishers on the Posterous blog platform.
  • January 2012: Beall launched a blog called Scholarly Open Access that listed predatory publishers/journals and also offered criticism of scholarly open-access publishing.
  • August 2012: Beall posted his criteria for evaluating publishers.
  • February 2013: Beall added a process for a publisher to appeal their inclusion in the list.
  • 2013: OMICS publishing group threatened to sue Beall for $1 billion for including them on the list (this threat obviously wasn’t successful, since the list lived on for another 4 years).
  • January 17, 2017: The list was taken offline.  Beall describes his reasons for taking down the list in his article What I learned from predatory publishers:

In January 2017, facing intense pressure from my employer, the University of Colorado Denver, and fearing for my job, I shut down the blog and removed all its content from the blog platform.

So that’s the story in a nutshell.  Beall’s List was highly controversial (angering both open-access publishers included on the list and some open-access advocates), but it was also incredibly useful, with many researchers and librarians using the list as an authoritative resource to identify predatory journals to avoid publishing in and using for research.

Thankfully, there are still ongoing efforts to identify predatory journals and guide researchers towards high-quality, reputable journals for publishing and research.  Many of these efforts utilize or build on Beall’s work.  Here are a few ways Beall’s legacy lives on:

  • Archived versions of Beall’s List: Some LibGuides and blogs link to or post archived versions of the list. A site called Beall’s List of Predatory Journals and Publishers (hosted on Weebly) also appears to be built from archived versions of Beall’s List.
  • Active updates of Beall’s List: The website Stop Predatory Journals seeks to continue updating Beall’s list through a collaborative community effort.  It’s unclear if this page is still regularly updated, though, since the last post on the homepage is from February 10, 2017.
  • Cabell’s Predatory Journal Blacklist (subscription tool): A Nature.com article titled Pay-to-view blacklist of predatory journals set to launch describes the new subscription-based predatory journal blacklist from scholarly-services firm Cabell’s International. Rick Anderson at The Scholarly Kitchen offers a detailed review of Cabell’s list.
  • Guidelines for Avoiding Predatory Journals: The website Thinkchecksubmit.org provides guidelines and resources for researchers to help them identify reputable journals where they can safely publish their work.

Are there other ways researchers and librarians are working to identify and avoid predatory publishers?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

Preserving the Internet: Library of Congress and the Internet Archive

Preserving internet content seems to be a Sisyphean task, especially content from social media.  A recent article from Forbes.com on Why We Need To Archive The Web In Order To Preserve Twitter by Kalev Leetaru made a great point about the challenges of preserving online content:

Perhaps the most important lesson is the reminder that in a networked information world, preserving a single object in isolation may not actually preserve it if it consists of links to other resources which are lost.

The content of the web changes every second, and a website can be taken down at any time.  If a Tweet links to a website that’s no longer available, how useful is an archived version of that Tweet?  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg…the Library of Congress (LOC) has been trying to figure how out to create a usable archive of Tweets since 2010.

Obstacles in Archiving Twitter

An article last year from The Atlantic, Can Twitter Fit Inside the Library of Congress? by Andrew McGill, provides an overview of the agreement the Library of Congress made with Twitter in April 2010:

Twitter promised to hand over all the tweets posted since the company’s launch in 2006, as well as a regular feed of new submissions. In return, the library agreed to embargo the data for six months and ensure that private and deleted tweets were not exposed.

The Library of Congress has the raw data, but it struggles with the ever-growing size and complexity of the Tweets archive.  With 500 million Tweets added a day (in 2012) and the added metadata of embedded images, videos, and conversation threads, the archive of Tweets has become nearly unsearchable with current technology available to the LOC.  The Atlantic article quotes an LOC blog post from 2013 that describes how “executing a single search of just the fixed 2006-2010 archive on the Library’s systems could take 24 hours.” Researchers desperately want free access to the Twitter archives, but the sheer volume, variety, and velocity of this big data makes it extremely difficult to create an easily searchable portal.  Even if the LOC does create a searchable portal for the Twitter archives, how useful will those preserved Tweets really be without the context of working links?

Preserving the Internet: The Internet Archive

Twitter is just a single social media platform…how can we possibly preserve all versions of all websites ever available on the web?  Many well written articles have already pondered this question:

One thread uniting these articles are mentions of the Internet Archive, which describes itself as “a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more.”  You can search everything from copyright records to TV clips of President Trump on the Internet Archive, but the crowning achievement of the site is the Wayback Machine, which allows users to explore more than 299 billion web pages saved over the past two decades.

For example, if I want to explore all archived versions of the MedlinePlus homepage, I can just search by the URL and view 3,551 versions of the page, saved between April 7, 2000 and July 21, 2017.  Some links on the archived pages will take you to similar archived versions of the linked webpages (although the captures of the linked pages may have a different time stamp). Many of the images and drop-down menus are also preserved, so you get a relatively accurate feel for what the webpage looked like during that time. The Wayback Machine is a fascinating tool for cultural and historical research, and it’s even used for more creative purposes like patent searching and improving search engine optimization (SEO).

Capture
Capture of the MedlinePlus homepage from April 7, 2000 on the Wayback Machine.

Exhibiting the Internet: The Library of Congress

Although the Library of Congress has yet to release a usable Twitter archive, the LOC still offers plenty of smaller online content archives which provide valuable insights into web culture.  The LOC recently announced the release of the Webcomics Web Archive and the Web Cultures Web Archive. The Webcomics archive focuses on “award-winning comics as well as webcomics that are significant for their longevity, reputation or subject matter”, while the Web Cultures archive includes “a representative sampling of websites documenting the creation and sharing of emergent cultural traditions on the web such as GIFs, memes and emoji.”

Each archived website includes a metadata page with a representative screenshot and bibliographic data about the website (including a summary and description of the site).  The archived website page also links to a timeline of all captured versions of the site.  For example, the Cute Overload! 😉 archived website page links to 122 captures of the Cute Overload homepage between October 3, 2006 to June 1, 2016.

Capture
Archived Website page for Cute Overload on the Library of Congress website.

While the Internet Archive aims for quantity and preserving as many webpage captures as possible, the Library of Congress online collections aim for a representative sample of high-quality sites.  The Library of Congress collections also include helpful metadata for each archived website, so they are easily discoverable.  The LOC collection can be used as an internet history museum, while the Internet Archive Wayback Machine is the closest thing we currently have to an actual archive of the internet.  Hopefully we’ll eventually also have access to a full Twitter archive from LOC, but that may be years down the road.

Librarians on Twitter: Hashtags, Twitter Chats, and Beyond

book

I’ll admit it: I’m a few years behind the game with starting a personal-professional Twitter account.  I’ve used Twitter plenty for work over the years, but Tweeting to promote a brand or a website is different than Tweeting just to promote yourself and your own ideas. There is already a thriving Twitosphere of librarians out there, and it can be daunting to try to jump in and join the conversation.  Who should I follow?  What hashtags should I use?  Where can I find other medical librarians on Twitter?

Here are a few lessons learned while starting my new Twitter account, @jamornini:

So I guess I need to get Tweeting.  Maybe in the future (if I’m brave enough) I’ll follow the librarian community onto Instagram or Snapchat.  Social media is a brave new world, and librarians are constantly adapting to sharing information through the latest digital channels.