Monday, 8 October 2018

No Nonsense Guide: Chance to Contribute a Case Study

The blog has been through a quiet period recently for several reasons but perhaps one of the biggest is that I have been writing my first book! The No Nonsense Guide to Scholarly Communication and Research Support will be published by Facet in early 2019 and aims to offer an introduction to the main areas of research support that librarians will deal with. Hopefully it will offer a pain-free introduction to the work of scholarly communication for those new to the area or planning to move into it.

Perhaps one of the most important chapters will look at the career paths available for librarians in research support. Because of my current day job I spend a lot of time talking to people about training for library staff and it worries me to hear that they are often unable to recruit for research support roles from within the library profession. Sometimes this is because of a lack of skill and other times a lack of confidence which means that people perfectly qualified to apply don't. One of the aims of my book and this chapter in particular is to encourage people to get involved in this area and that is where I would like to use the expertise of the community. 

As part of the chapter I want to include some case studies from people in the library and information sector who work in roles with some element of scholarly communication or research support. By talking about their careers so far, what they really do in their roles and the skills that they use I hope this will demystify some of the roles and encourage librarians to apply. If you would like to contribute to a case study then please fill in the Google form below, answering as many questions as you are able to. I'm happy to receive case studies from colleagues in a variety of roles around the globe at different levels. Depending on the amount and range of case studies I receive I may not be able to include all of them in the book and there is no financial incentive for contributing. The chapter will be made available via Open Access upon publication and by contributing you consent to both publication of the case study in the book and wider open sharing.

Contribute a case study here:

The deadline for case studies is Friday 16th November.

If you have any questions about this or would like to know more please feel free to contact me via the blog or at

Monday, 10 September 2018

Demystifying Peer Review: International Peer Review Week 2018

This week is International Peer Review Week which highlights and celebrates the role that peer review plays in scholarly communication. The theme of Peer Review Week 2018 is Diversity and aims to encourage more people from a range of different backgrounds to get involved in the process. Peer review as a process is changing - the introduction of open peer review aims to make it a more transparent process for both reviewers and reviewees. Hopefully by demystifying how and why peer review is carried out and arguable changing it for the better, more people will be encouraged to take part.

Much of my work this year has focused on developing online resources so I thought I would add to those this peer review week. Below you can find the first in a series of guides produced by the OSC which look at different aspects of scholarly communication. These first three titles look at different areas related to peer review - the publication lifecycle, avoiding predatory publishers and of course  the peer review process itself. These booklets can be viewed online or downloaded and printed here. All of them are available under a Creative Commons CC-BY 4.0 license which means they can be shared and adapted as needed.


Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Less is More: Introducing Research in 3 Minutes Videos

I'm now well into the third year of my job and finally starting to feel somewhat settled. I've done a lot of face to face training in the last couple of years but it can often be hard for staff to get away from the demands of their day jobs to attend sessions - however much they might want to! As a result I've been experimenting with more online training and I'll be sharing this on the blog over the coming months. 

At least locally there seem to be two main problems with learning about scholarly communication and research support: a lack of time to learn about something that may not be directly relevant to their role and not understanding the terminology (and therefore not knowing if particular training sessions are relevant). To help with this I've put together a series of short videos covering Research in 3 Minutes. Each video looks at a research support topic such as peer review, metrics and predatory publishers (click the image below for more). 

The videos themselves were easy to put together using a site called Lumen5. This was something I saw mentioned on Twitter as a way to create short videos easily so having little or no design competency I thought I would give it a try. Designed as a way to make blog posts and other content more visual, the site takes text and automatically turns it into the videos you can see above. It also automatically selects CC0 images for each slide although the algorithm which does this didn't always get things right! This can all be changed along with moving the text between slides, highlighting certain words and selecting the (copyright free) music. I just used a free version which allows you to have forty slides and this was plenty.

Some top tips for creating videos like this:

  • keep them short and sweet. Keeping the videos to roughly three minutes each allowed me to get my point across without going overboard
  • plan out what you want to say beforehand. The site allows you to copy and paste text from a word file and I found this to be the easiest method to make sure I stayed within my slide/word limit
  • always check your finished video, even if you have taken the time to prepare the text. Some things worked well in the Word document but didn't have the right flow in the video
  • the site offers both still images and video and I recommend trying to mix these up. Having both keeps the video fresh but having too many videos followed by a static image can be a little distracting
  • I used the same music on each slide for consistency but looking back I would change this. If someone was to watch more than one or even the whole sequence it can get pretty annoying! 
The videos were a nice distraction from some of my more intense work over the last few months and are helping to build up a solid bank of online training materials. I hope to release more in the future so watch this space! 

Monday, 13 August 2018

New Skills, New Challenges: CPD in the Information Profession

Readers of this blog will know that I have always been interested in professional development for library staff. Recently I was asked to put together a special virtual online edition of the New Review of Academic Librarianship looking at the way CPD has evolved over the years, as reported in the literature. The result can now be found online here with all articles made openly available for a limited time. As part of this exercise I also wrote an introductory editorial on New Skills, New Challenges: CPD in the Information Profession which can be found with the articlesBut don't worry if you don't get a chance to read it now - there is also a version of my editorial available in the Cambridge repository. Currently under an embargo it will be available to read early next year. 

Putting together this editorial was an interesting exercise. I've never been a big fan of literature reviews and even choosing publications from a defined list was hard. It was also difficult to get the balance and tone of the actual editorial right but I think I managed it in the end. It really helped me to focus and gave me a new perspective on some of the other writing projects I'm working on.

I've written a lot in the past about librarians getting involved in the publication process and I can recommend literature reviews as a route to try. They are often more helpful to readers than the original articles as all the hard work has been done for them! 

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

All the Acronyms: LILAC, ICEPOPS and IFTTT

The last few weeks have been busy for me conference wise. Perhaps the biggest event I have attended was LILAC 2018 and its satellite event ICEPOPS

For those who don't know, LILAC is one of the larger conferences in the library calendar with a special focus on information literacy. As usual there was a great selection of speakers and the keynotes can now be viewed online (I especially recommend watching David White's talk on Posthuman Literacies). The first ICEPOPS - International Copyright-Literacy Event with Playful Opportunities for Practitioners and Scholars - was held the day before LILAC and provided a chance for those interested in learning more about copyright education to get together and learn about different approaches. Both events were really useful and I ended up tweeting so much that Twitter thought I was a bot and briefly suspended my account!

I usually write a reflective blog post on events I attend but this time I decided to try something different - sharing my notes and tweet archive from the conference. Partly this is in the spirit of openness and ensuring that those who couldn't attend the event got a chance to see what was said and partly this helps me to justify to myself the huge amount of money I recently spent on a MacBook Air! In all seriousness I thought it would be good to share the full picture that I took away from the events. Usually when I blog I end up leaving a lot out as otherwise posts would be about eight pages long. This way you can see everything that I thought worth writing down (although it is of course my own personal interpretation of what was noteworthy). People seemed to enjoy reading these during the conference itself so I've collected them together here as a record. 

I also shared my collected tweets from both events. Setting up a personal archive of tweets is something I try to do from most events I attend as I use Twitter as a form of note taking and find this an easier way to go back through my own notes.

A few people have since asked me how I created these archives so I've included the instructions below. I find it a really useful way of keeping notes but I'd be interested to learn about the different methods other people use.

Setting up a tweet archive with IFTT
  1. Create an account on IFTTT
  2. Connect your Twitter and Google Drive accounts
  3. Go to My Applets - New Applet
  4. Under IF select Twitter
  5. Select New tweet by you with hashtag 
  6. Specify the hashtag of the event when prompted then select Create trigger
  7. Under Then that select Google Sheets
  8. Select Add row to spreadsheet. At this point you will be prompted to select an existing spreadsheet or set up a new one. You can also alter the way that the tweet is collected at this stage (IFTTT will guide you through it)
  9. Select Create action and you're ready to go. The applet will run automatically
IFTTT is quite an intuitive site which guides you through the process of automating things quickly and easily. Remember that these archives only work if they are set up in advance as they collect information as it happens rather than retrospectively. If anyone knows a way of creating an archive retrospectively then I'm open to hearing about it! 

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Inclusivity, Technology and Assessment : CCTL Teaching Forum 2018

For the last few years a highlight of the spring at Cambridge has been the Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning Forum. It provides a chance for all those with teaching responsibilities (at any level) to learn about best practice, new techniques and how we can improve our offer to our students. The 2018 event was held on a sunny day at Murray Edwards College with the highest number of attendees ever (including many librarians). I've picked out a few of my key themes of the day below: 

The opening panel focused on how to make teaching more inclusive. It pointed out that the term inclusivity is an easy one to use but it requires careful unpacking into its many different facets. Like any other university Cambridge caters to many students with disabilities. The panel focused on moving away from a model where changes are made to accommodate someone with additional needs and towards an affirmative model where changes can be made for the good of all. Lecture capture was cited as an example of this - it can hugely benefit students with certain learning issues but can be used to great advantage by all (more on lecture capture later).

There was also talk of decolonizing or decentralizing the curriculum. This is again an issue that many universities face but perhaps the pressure is more intense at an institution like Cambridge. As well as looking at what we teach (which topics are covered and which readings are assigned) we were encouraged to think about why we teach the way we do. Most teachers used their own teachers as models of good practice because that's what they know but is this just perpetuating the problem? We need to think about what influences our decisions to teach they way we do by asking ourselves some hard questions. This is something I know I need to think about as I reflect on my own teaching practice so this was one of my top takeaways from the day.

Lecture capture
The issue of lecture capture was one of the big themes of the day and cropped up in multiple sessions. he process involves recording a live lecture and then making that recording available to students on the course. At the moment this has been done as an opt-in pilot project at Cambridge but it has been very popular with students. Formal permission was sought from lecturers to record their sessions and students were made aware that any contributions or questions from them could be edited out of the recording (although to date no one has taken up this offer). 

There were several concerns raised about capturing lectures:
  • copyright - part of the formal permission sought from lecturers included a copyright statement asking them to agree to sharing their presentation. Personally I would have liked more information on the copyright issues brought up by the content of the presentation as this is the most common issue I deal with. Something for me to investigate further I think!
  • attendance at lectures - several people were understandably concerned that having a recording of the lecture would mean students were less likely to attend the live session. Evidence from the pilot project and its student survey actually suggests the opposite, with only a tiny percentage unlikely to attend 
  • use of material - some lecturers were concerned about the possibility that students would upload lecture captured content to online platforms such as YouTube. Students specifically agree not to do this when accessing the video but many pointed out that if they really wanted to there was little to stop them. Lecturers also worried that something they said during a lecture could be taken out of context and posted online - possibly leading to embarrassing repercussions. They wondered if this would impact their presentation style and lead to a level of self-censorship which could do a disservice to the students in the room
Some advantages of lecture capture were also highlighted:
  • catching up - students who are forced to miss the live session due to illness or other commitments used the recordings to make sure they hadn't missed important content
  • revision tool - many students were using the recordings as a revision tool before assessments. Some event attended the lectures just to listen and then watched the recordings to take notes
  • reduced stress - levels of stress and anxiety were reduced among all students as they knew that they would have the opportunity to review the material
  • questions - one slightly unexpected outcome was that students were spending less time asking their lecturers trivial questions about the content as these could be answered through the recordings. Instead they were able to use their tutorial time more effectively by exploring deeper questions around the content
The theme that technology doesn't need to be a foreign thing was echoed in other presentations, including a very entertaining session from Dr Hugh Hunt from the Department of Engineering which showcased a marvelous bit of kit called a visualizer which lets you project what you are doing on the screen - ideal for conducting experiments and bringing in outside experts over Skype!

The final theme was the issue of assessment - how do we ensure that students have learnt what they need to know? Many presenters made the point that assessment should be less about measuring performance and more about making sure that students are reaching their potential. There was also a lot of discussion about the authenticity of assessment. We need to make sure that we use assessment methods show students are prepared for whatever they do next. At the moment we are great at assessing their ability to write an essay in exam conditions but what about skills they will use in the workplace such as writing reports or making a great presentation? Do we even need two different streams of assessment depending on the next steps the student will take - one for those going on to employment and another for those pursuing further study?

There were also calls for greater levels of assessment literacy. We need to inform our students what they will be working towards before they start so that they know what is expected of them, for example what knowledge and skills are they expected to develop in order to earn a first or a 2:1?

I think one of the most important messages on assessment for me was that we need to move away from learning objectives and instead focus on learning outcomes by focusing less on what we want to teach but on what our students need to learn to operate effectively. This is something that I will be thinking about as I plan the 2018 run of the Research Support Ambassador Programme at Cambridge.

Overall the day was really inspiring and gave me a lot to take away and think about - I'm already looking forward to the 2019 Teaching Forum! 

Monday, 9 April 2018

The Unexpected Side of Working in Research Support - CILIP Careers Day

Last week I traveled what is starting to become a familiar route down to London to speak at the CILIP Careers Day. This annual one day event started in 2017 as a way to reach out to those who have been working in the information profession for a while and were looking for a way to take the next step or refresh their career. The sessions included both talks and practical workshops from people working in a variety of different sectors. We also heard about valuable techniques such as networking, reading a job advertisement and how to move on if you are stuck in a career rut.

I was asked to speak about working in research support, an area which is becoming increasingly important in libraries as evidenced by the number of job advertisements that keep cropping up in this area. Librarians sometimes get nervous about the language that is used in these adverts and worry that because they are not experts in areas such as Open Access and Research Data Management that they shouldn't apply for these roles. However, if you actually look at the skills that are being asked for then hopefully it should become apparent that librarians know a lot about this area already:
  • We are used to dealing with and describing data in order to open it up to a wider audience
  • Librarians tend to be very adaptable and good and problem solving - ideal for dealing with publishers who change their policies (and consequently your department workflows) at a moments notice
  • We know about different methods of publishing and the differences between them - for example that journals often appear in print/online faster than books. This is the kind of advice we can pass on to our users
  • We are accustomed to explaining sometimes complex procedures and rules to our users in a way that makes sense to them which comes in handy when trying to explain various Open Access policies!
The point that I (hopefully) made on the day was that librarians often expect to be baffled by research support roles but once they start digging a bit deeper then they realise that they know more than they think. As with any librarian role the subject knowledge can be learnt, it is much harder to be the sort of person who has the aptitude to work in research support but I think librarians have all of the necessary traits already.

Every day working in research support is different, even if the tasks can sometimes seem a little bit routine. In my own department there is always something to make the day go faster - like the time that someone uploaded multiple images of penguin guano as the data supporting their publication, the day my office crashed the Cambridge University server by publishing Dr Stephen Hawking's thesis or the fact that I have a Krispy Kreme loyalty card for work purposes! 

As well as getting to meet a great bunch of people (and hopefully not putting them off a career in research support!) I learnt a lot from the other sessions. I've always been a bit nervous of networking but the excellent session by Jo Wood and Michael Jones helped to boost my confidence so will probably be my top takeaway.

For those interested in either working in research support or what colour penguin guano is, my slides are available below: