Monday, 7 August 2017

Wondering about Webinars

Usually when I deliver training it involves standing in front of people giving a talk or facilitating a workshop. Although these sessions get good feedback from participants there are also several downsides to this model. It's not always possible for librarians to leave their duties to attend training, especially if they work in a small team or on a busy front desk. Finding a time that suits everyone who might want to attend is also impossible - different working hours, annual leave and previous commitments combine to make things difficult. There are also constraints for the trainer - a venue has to be found and there is often a good deal of time needed to travel and set up a room. A one hour training session can mean three hours out of the office for the trainer which is not the best use of time.

All of this got me thinking that I should explore some new methods of delivering training. I've attended many webinars before and when they are done well I've found them a good way to learn without taking too much time out of my day. Even if I can't attend them live I can usually access the recording later meaning they are easy to fit in with my schedule. Happily the University of Cambridge is trialing Adobe Connect as a way to deliver content online (something the OSC uses to live-stream events) so I was able to attend some training and start delivering webinars of my own.

Working in scholarly communication one of the areas I often cover in my training is Open Access. I've had a lot of requests from the Cambridge library community for training on various aspects of Open Access but not all of these would justify a full in-person session on their own. These sessions seemed like a good candidate for trying out webinars and last month we ran a series of three: Open Access for College Librarians, Open Access for Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences and an Open Access Update. The feedback for these sessions was overwhelmingly positive so I'll be doing more webinars in the future.

So, what did I learn from this experiment? You can't underestimate the importance of preparation. Getting all of your documents and schedules ready in advance saves a lot of stress on the day, particularly if you're delivering the webinar solo. Having a run through is also a good plan, both to test the equipment and to make sure you stick to your running time. If you want people to attend the webinar live then you need to make it worth their while. Include some elements of interactivity so that they get something extra out of the experience. You also need to balance this with the rest of the content to make sure that those watching the recording can still use the content. Including links to the sites you're mentioning or to further information in the chat box stops people having to scrabble around to find it themselves. Finally don't get too involved in the mechanism of delivery at the expense of the content of the session. Just because you can do a certain trick on a webinar that doesn't mean you have to use it unless it adds to the main learning objectives.

Given the success of the webinars I've already started moving ahead with further plans. The scholarly communication training programme I run each summer - the Research Support Ambassadors - is being delivered almost exclusively through webinars this year (more on this to come). I'm also exploring the possibility of opening up these webinars to the wider library community in the future although it's still very early days. Hopefully this will make it easier for everyone to improve their knowledge of the scholarly communication landscape.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Scholarly Communication Training Materials

Scholarly communication and research support services are a growing part of the offering of many academic libraries but it can be hard for staff to develop the skills they need to deliver this service, particularly if they are not already working in a related area.

My role within the Office of Scholarly Communication at Cambridge is to develop and deliver training in research support. This training is open to all Cambridge library staff and we try to cover a variety of formats. Since research support is becoming a more in-demand area of academic librarianship I often get asked if the training is available to access somewhere to those outside Cambridge. 

I've recently uploaded the training materials I've developed to Apollo, the Cambridge repository, and we are working on pulling this together at a more formal level in Cambridge. In the meantime I've set up a page for Scholarly Communication Training on this blog which will host links to the sessions that I've developed. Everything on this page is available under a CC-BY licence meaning that it is available for anyone to adapt and reuse as long the author is credited. 

At present there are materials on:
  • Research skills
  • Scholarly publishing
  • Research data management
  • Copyright
As more materials are developed I'll be adding them to this page so please keep an eye out for updates if you're interested.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Accessibility, Development and Promotion: CILIP Conference 2017

Last week I attended the annual CILIP Conference in Manchester. I've been for the last few years and always found it a professionally invigorating experience. The conference lasted two days but instead of giving a complete run down of everything I thought I would just highlight the top three themes which ran through all of the presentations:
  • accessibility
  • professional development and the importance of transferable skills
  • promoting the value of libraries

This was perhaps the number one theme from the conference. Like many people one of the big draws of CILIP 2017 for me was a chance to hear Dr Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress deliver the opening keynote. She spoke of one of her motivations in taking on the role - to make a large research library like the Library of Congress more accessible. Hayden was asked about how she intended to increase access to the Library in her job interview with President Obama (side note here from the speaker to remember this the next time you are intimidated in a job interview!). The Library is obviously a great institution with a well deserved reputation but it is not always easy to access if you are "not a scholar" as people perceive that the Library is not for them. Hayden also made the point that we often make people jump through hoops to access our collections - something which goes back to the role of the librarian as the curator of unique items. 

Working in a major research library I could relate to a lot of these points. We experience similar issues with access at Cambridge even though we are open to anyone with a need to use our collections and services. The physical building is not always the most accessible (having been designed and built in the 1930s) and Cambridge sometimes has an undeserved reputation for being unwelcoming. Once they come through the door the majority of people comment on how friendly and helpful the staff are but of course that relies on them coming through the door in the first place! There are also improvements to be made but this is being worked on. Working with Open Access to the research outputs of the University is an increasingly important way for us to promote accessibility. The aim of OA is to make these outputs accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Cambridge's repository Apollo provides a wealth of information to anyone who wants to access it but there is still more work to be done, both in terms of increasing the number of outputs available and promoting it to those outside the University. 

Future accessibility was also mentioned. Preserving information and data today in the right way will help to make it more accessible to future users. Of course librarians have been doing this for centuries but we may have to think about things in a different way now. Formats are constantly changing so we need to keep up with this and use our skills to determine how best to preserve access for the future. 

The issue of accessibility also came up in other presentations.In his keynote Luciano Floridi, Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at Oxford, highlighted the fact that the 24/7 digital culture meant that having a presence no longer necessarily requires being in the same physical location. We can attend events remotely or contribute to discussions online in our own time. Neil MacInnes of Manchester Libraries talked about the recent redevelopment of the city's libraries. He talked about how the fact that everything we do in libraries is about people and how this was at the heart of the redevelopment. Chief Data Officer and CILIP Trustee Caroline Curruthers spoke about her work with Network Rail and the importance of not hoarding data but managing it so that we can access it as needed. She advocated librarians as "data cheerleaders" to promote the value of proper data storage and sharing. Caroline Brazier (Chief Librarian at the British Library) brought the theme full circle in the final session of the conference. Even after extensive changes which have been lauded by many there are still some people who are put off by the "great scholastic silence" of an institution such as the BL. I took note of the lessons from these talks and will be using them to think about my own role in accessibility.

Professional development (and the importance of transferable skills)
Professional development is an interest of mine and at the heart of my current role so I was glad to see this as an emerging theme. In her presentation on Engaging New LIS Professionals to Advance the Profession, Alisa Howlett outlined some of the key concerns of new professionals. Time is as always a factor but there were also worries about feeling that they had nothing to say as newbies. Howlett argued that they had a fresh perspective to bring to the profession and that if development was a priority then time could be made. Equally it's important to know that there is time for development later. Choose the paths that suit you and don't be afraid to circle back to opportunities in the future. 

This theme was also present in Hayden's opening keynote where she outlined a programme at the Library of Congress which pairs younger and more mature staff when dealing with online interactions. This allows for mutual learning - one learns about the technology which may be new to them and the other benefits from a wealth of knowledge and experience in a library. An important message to take away from this session was that professional development can be a two way experience. It's not just about one person passing on their knowledge to another but about making sure that there is a connection between all the knowledge in an organisation.

The importance of transferable skills was another recurring theme. Dan Livesey, Library Manager at Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust spoke about his move from public to health libraries. We all build up transferable skills in our roles and these can be really useful for preparing you for new challenges and identifying your strengths. I can definitely see the truth in this but I think we don't always put these skills to the best use. Hopefully the lesson I can take away from this is to think more about how I can use my own transferable skills.

Promoting the value of libraries
The final theme of the conference is perhaps the most important - the need to promote the value of the library to our communities. It was noted that in a perfect world we wouldn't have to do this but unfortunately we don't live in a perfect world so self-promotion is necessary! In their session on being Loud Librarians Selena Killick and Frankie Wilson talked us through identifying stakeholders and showed us how to target our messages effectively at these stakeholders. Too often we stick to the message we want to give out rather than what stakeholders need to hear so this was a great chance to take a step back. Another valuable lesson from this session was to keep a record of any emails praising your service. Not only is this a nice pick me up but these emails can provide a great qualitative measure of impact through the stories that they contain. This can make a great impact, particularly when it comes to proving how your service impacts the community.

The message about value was also part of the keynote from Neil MacInnes. The redevelopment of Manchester libraries has really highlighted the value of the service to the community through various outreach projects which aim to include all parts of the diverse Manchester community. They have several inspiring sessions which we could all learn from.

Overall CILIP 2017 was a great conference and I'm really looking forward to CILIP 2018 in (hopefully) sunny Brighton! 

Friday, 30 June 2017

Tools for Reflective Practice

Whether I'm working in my everyday role teaching and training library staff at Cambridge or working with CILIP Professional Registration Candidates as part of my Candidate Support Officer duties, one topic keeps coming up again and again - reflective practice. What is it? How do I do it? Should I even be bothering at all?!

For me the answer to that last question is a resounding yes. I know that it can be hard to make time for yet another thing in a busy day and it's not for everyone but I think it's worth persevering with. I'm a worrier by nature and I can't begin to count the amount of time I've wasted going over and over tiny, insignificant interactions in my head. Working on my reflective skills has really helped me to focus and spend less time worrying about the small things. Obviously for me, channeling my reflections into blog posts is helpful.

I think reflection is important for other reasons as well:

  • It helps to silence that little voice in my head that reminds me of everything I could have done differently. This 'self-talk' can be really damaging if it gets out of hand and having a structure to think back and reflect on experience has really helped my mental balance.
  • Reflection shows you what went right or wrong. I spend a lot of my time developing and delivering courses so it's always good to think through how these can be improved. Not only does reflection help to find areas for improvement but it can highlight the things you're doing right and should keep doing.
  • It stops us from doing the same thing for reasons that made sense twenty years ago. Sometimes there are perfectly valid reasons for doing something a certain way but reflection helps us to be more creative and really look at things in a new light.
  • Reflection also helps to overcome assumptions. It's natural and human to make assumptions about people and their situations but I think it often pays to take a step back and think things through. Personal story: my father was in a wheelchair for the last few years of his life. I had a small car which didn't fit his chair but I still liked to take him out and about. Luckily many places offer wheelchairs which you can borrow and this is what I used to do. With my father in the car I would park in the disabled bay (as he was entitled to do) and then get out to fetch the chair for him. More often than not I would get challenged about my need to park there, sometimes in a very abusive way, as people assumed I was parking illegally. Thinking about this experience makes me give those parking in such spaces today the benefit of the doubt - I don't assume they're abusing the system just because I can't see a disability. Overcoming assumptions is useful when working with lots of different users in the information profession.
However reflection isn't always easy. It takes time and commitment as well as a certain level of self insight which can be uncomfortable. I've made some discoveries about myself and my behavior as a result of reflection that have made me face some harsh truths. However I've learnt from it and now moved on. 

As part of my role at Cambridge I recently delivered a workshop session on reflective practice. The slides and materials from the workshop can be found below (links to other training I've given can be found here). The slides and workbook are both licenced under a Creative Commons CC-BY licence meaning that they are free to reuse, remix and adapt as needed. I hope they're helpful whichever type of reflection you're struggling with!

Download slides here [PDF]
Download workbook here [PDF]

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Mining for Data: Skills for TDM

Last week I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days in Salzburg in order to attend the FutureTDM Symposium. Text and data mining is a hot topic in academic libraries at the moment and I was flattered to be asked to discuss the skill set that both researchers and librarians might need in order to make the most of it.

What is TDM?

Text and data mining (TDM) is the process of electronically analysing large amounts of text in order to identify trends. This process has traditionally been done by people sitting down and going through text which is of course incredibly time consuming and laborious. There is also a limit to the amount of information which can be analysed and the number of trends which can be found in this way. Using electronic analysis means that vast volumes of information can be mined and patterns that might not be apparent to the human eye can be found. For example researchers can discover all mentions of a disease in the literature they have access to and find connections to possible treatments.

This obviously opens up a lot of exciting new opportunities for both researchers and librarians but they may need to develop their skill set to take full advantage.  


Library staff have a wide variety of skills which fit in well with the TDM agenda including technical, data and teaching skills. This makes them ideally placed to offer help to the research community with TDM. Of course depending on their involvement they may not need to be experts but having a basic awareness of the concept of TDM and its associated areas is important in order to signpost those looking for help.


The actual skills needed will vary by discipline. What is crucial is the need to embed the skills needed within the areas researchers are already looking to develop to avoid a situation where TDM is seen as “yet another thing” they have to learn about. This is especially true in light of the mobile nature of the career researcher who moves between institutions and has to learn new technologies and systems every time.

Skills to develop

So which skills should librarians and researchers focus on:

  • Copyright - as TDM involves accessing material which may be protected by copyright a solid grasp of copyright laws and exemptions is important. There is still a perception amongst many that if you can access a resource online then it’s free to use (I’m sure many librarians will have had this conversation with their users!). An understanding of copyright is important for both librarians and users in order to make sure that TDM projects adhere to the law. A knowledge of the different licences available for material and how they operate is also important in order to get the best balance between the rights of the author and the work that researchers want to undertake.
  • Data skills - solid research data management is the basis of the TDM of the future. If we can take care to manage, label and share the data that is currently being produced then it will be in good order for future researchers to mine. Librarians already have the skills needed to advise on preparing and managing data but perhaps need to be more proactive in offering this help to researchers. In order to take full advantage of TDM data needs to have good metadata attached to it. Poor metadata reduces the visibility of the data and means that computers struggle to process it. Again, librarians are ideally placed to help advise researchers on the skills and schema they will need to use to work with metadata.
  • Technical skills - technical skills are vital for this type of work but tend not to be present unless the individual works to develop them themselves outside of their formal education. Both librarians and researchers need to have the knowledge of the applications used to actually undertake this work, from a basic awareness of the tools available to being able to operate expert support. Again, this will likely vary by discipline. Knowledge of the different file formats available is also important as this can help to solve problems. For example digitised books are often saved as images files of the pages which is easily readable by the human eye but not by a machine. Skills in data analysis and programming are becoming more common in the library sector and these will also be important as we look to advise researchers.
  • Negotiation - TDM is still relatively new to many people and there is still work to be done on making sure that the current exemptions to copyright law work for the majority. It’s important that researchers and librarians are able to negotiate licences where needed, especially if it they don’t make explicit provision for TDM. A basic understanding of how to interpret existing contracts is also important. I would argue that these skills are particularly important for librarians. It’s likely to be too onerous for researchers to negotiate with all of the different rights holders they would need to contact and this provides an opportunity for librarians to act as intermediaries. In order to do this successfully they need to develop strong negotiating skills.
  • Future planning and adaptability - TDM is a constantly changing landscape and everyone needs to be able to respond to these changes and plan for the future rather than taking a reactive approach when it’s too late. Being able to look at the current landscape and using knowledge to try and predict future trends will help to ensure that both librarians and the research community are well positioned for the future.

The above is by no means an exhaustive list. I'm as new to TDM as many of my colleagues so am still learning as I go. If you want to explore TDM in more detail I would suggest following the reports from the FutureTDM project and checking out this blog post from CILIP for more information. It’s an exciting new area which is likely to feature heavily in the future of both the academic library and librarian.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Facts Matter at Cambridge

Last week Anglia Ruskin University, CILIP and Cambridge University hosted an evening of discussion on various aspects of CILIP's Facts Matter campaign. The talks were designed to inform the audience about the campaign, how to break out of the fake news filter bubble and get the facts they need ahead of the General Election. 

The collected tweets from the event can be found below for those who didn't get a chance to attend:

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Reflections on the Publication Process

Working in scholarly communication for the last eighteen months has been a steep learning curve in a lot of ways. I have responsibility for training others in an area that is still relatively new to me and constantly evolving which means that I spend as much time in training as they do! 

One way in which I've been learning about the process of scholarly communication is by taking part in it and publishing my first peer reviewed article. Doing this allowed me to better understand how the traditional publication life cycle works at the same time as developing my writing skills. Although I have published shorter articles in the professional press before these have usually been as the result of a specific request or winning a bursary. This was the first time that I actually responded to a call for contributions and been through the process of having my work critiqued and changed.

I always aim to encourage others to get more involved in the profession through research and sharing their knowledge so I wanted to document the experience of getting published here. Although it wasn't always a smooth ride hopefully it will encourage more people than it will put off!

Full disclosure: I sit on the Editorial Board of the New Review of Academic Librarianship where my article was published (although I hope that didn't sway the decision!). It did mean that I got to see the process from both sides which was an interesting experience - but that's for another blog post.

It really can take a long time to get published
Obviously this depends on where you publish but I hadn't fully appreciated how long the writing and peer review process can take. I first saw the call for papers in May 2016 which means that it was a year from responding to the final article being published. Obviously this is different from discipline to discipline and I don't mean it as a slight on the process used by this particular journal (if anything sitting on the Board and undertaking some peer review myself has given me a new insight into this). Understanding how complex the process can be has helped me to better understand what researchers go through to get to publication.

Aim to write for a particular journal
It's a good idea to aim for a certain journal when thinking about publishing your work, either by answering a specific call for papers or by checking their submission guidelines. The call that I responded to was for a special issue with a particular focus. Although the general idea of what I wanted to write fit within the scope they were looking for I was still able to tailor my approach to the article to meet the needs of the journal. Focusing your article in this way can increase the likelihood of acceptance to the journal you want to publish in.

Conform to the standards of the journal
We all know that it's easier to take care of references and citation styles as we go along but in practice when trying to write these things can slip. However it really is a big time (and stress) saver further down the line so try to make an effort to format the article as you go along. Most journals will offer some guidance on how best to approach this on their webpages.

Allow yourself plenty of time to write and edit your work
No matter how much you want to write your article real life will get in the way so allow yourself more time than you will need. I was always a good student who had her assignments in before the deadline but I don't mind admitting that there were a few times during this writing process that I was up into the early hours of the morning to complete a draft! Unless you're lucky enough to have writing time as part of your job you'll probably be juggling writing with your job. Things come up that need to be dealt with and writing is not always the top of the priority list. Planning more time into the schedule can help to take the pressure off slightly.

Keeping the momentum going
This is a problem all writers have - whether it's an academic assignment or a report due at work. It's easy to lose sight of your goal when there is so much else going on so try and reward yourself where you can. For every draft you complete give yourself a little reward. Alternatively set small, achievable goals to divide up your workload. If you have a period of time to write then try to finish just one section rather than the whole article. Everyone has different ways of getting through the process so find yours and make use of it.

Develop a thick skin
I was lucky in that my article was accepted fairly easily after peer review but this isn't always the case. The comments I received after the first round of review were very constructive and really helped to improve my final article. However I won't deny that it hurts a little to have something you have worked so hard on criticized in any way. Hopefully now that I've been through the process I've developed a little bit of immunity to critical comments. As I said, the comments I received were helpful so it's really just a personal thing that I need to get over!

Think about how you will promote your work
Publication used to be the end of a project. You had been through drafting, peer review and changes and your work was now out in the world which means it's time to start the next project. Today it's important to make sure you share your work so that people actually get to see it. In the Office of Scholarly Communication we practice what we preach and we were lucky that we were able to make the final version of our article available Open Access. Even if you can't do this it is often possible to share a version of it in an institutional or subject repository so that those outside academia can access it. You will have put a lot of effort into producing your work so feel free to brag about it! Share a link on social media, blog about it, put a link in your email signature - whatever works. More tips on how to share your work can be found here.

Use the knowledge you gain from writing
I work with librarians and researchers so the experiences I've gained have some direct applications to my role. When talking to researchers I have a slightly better understanding of some of the common experiences they go through. I can commiserate on the length of the process or how disheartening it can be to get negative comments during peer review. It's also helped me to explain the publication process to library staff which is a crucial step in preparing them to support the research community. How you use your experience might be different but please try and share it in some way if you can. I think it's really important to encourage others to get involved in sharing their knowledge in this way but this can only happen if they are supported and encouraged through the process.

These are just a few of the things that I've learnt over the last year. As academic libraries change and move more towards research support developing a deeper understanding of the publication process will become more important. Whichever sector you work in I think it's important to share what you are doing with the wider profession so that we can learn about what works and what doesn't work.