Around three or four weeks ago I politely participated in a wee on-line survey put together by the University of Guelph library. Many questions were asked and answered about the level of service provided to users like me of the library. I thought nothing of it, and it took much less time than the advertised "approximately 30 minutes".
Last week, I got an email from the same group of people, inviting me to a focus group session this morning (early, why are these deals always at 8:30?) as I'd checked the little box that said "yes - I can be reached for further comment" on the survey. So got up way too early this morning, and walked into MacDonald Stewart Hall 243.
Not an easy room to find, but I eventually succeeded. Apparently, this room was designed for this kind of face-to-face-to-one-way-mirror interaction, as there was a little booth attached to the room with a pretty blatant attempt at a one-way mirror part of the ajoining wall. Here's a public-service announcement: if you're hiding in the secret room, looking through the secret mirror, you need to turn the lights off in your little space or I can see you. Especially if you're wearing a white shirt.
The quiet men in the psuedo-secret booth weren't an issue at all, actually; this morning's exercises were somewhat fun, and not secretive in any way. There were only three of us - apparently others are more cautious with their sleeping hours - all grad students in various departments. The very nice lady from "completely outside the university" was very good at running our little focus group, and we went through various explorations of how we conduct research and what features of on-line databases and the like we find most useful. I use the term "research" here in its purest form - finding published information about a particular topic (re - search). I don't think I learned anything particularly useful, but I (as usual) enjoyed discussing what I do and how I do it. I can usually be counted on to say something at a meeting.
One thing that did come out of the discussion was a bit about the importance of networking - who you know helps you find what they know so that you can use that knowledge yourself. At the very end of the discussion, I mentioned this blog, Pharyngula, and Rosie Redfield's blog as examples of the form (pretentious of me to associate with such company, I know), that could be considered a primitive first step towards some form of on-line scientific discussion board. PZ runs a blog that his students must participate in, and WebCT was discussed in some detail today, especially regarding the discussion forum built into WebCT. More proper forums (fora?) were not mentioned; perhaps if we'd had more time, but free coffee and cookies can only sustain a conversation for so long.
In the end, I got $20 in gift cards usuable at most places on-campus (i.e. food), so lunch today and possibly tomorrow is "free". We were told $15 before the session, but apparently the gift cards come only in $10 denominations.
I've been thinking about the idea of a general scientific forum, where one could post technical or theoretical questions to experts in the field, and participate in the discussions that would be generated around the answers. I think this would be very cool, but I don't know how one could set something like this up - would a major journal publisher take on the administrative tasks, or perhaps a major university or research institute? How broad could such a forum be - all of science, or multiple forums (fora?) for multiple disciplines? Just an idea now floating around in my head.