Monday, 18 December 2017

Biting the Bullet

Being someone who loves all things stationery I've come across bullet journals before. I always thought they sounded like a good idea but never really got round to coming up with one of my own. Recent changes in my personal circumstances mean that I need to start getting organised and whilst out Christmas shopping I spotted this so decided to take the plunge. Luckily my colleagues at the Engineering Library in Cambridge were offering a class on using bullet journals to become more organised so I attended and picked up some valuable tips.

Bullet journaling is a system for creating your own bespoke diary/notebook/calendar system. Pre-printed planners are great but they don't always work for everyone. People find that they never use some of the sections but run out of space in others. Using a blank notebook, the bullet system allows people to record their plans and to-do lists in a way that suits them. Bullet journals can be created from any type of notebook and customized to suit the individual. They can be as simple or as complicated as you like (if you want to get sucked down a rabbit hole look on either YouTube for inspiration or on Amazon for stencilsstickers or washi tape).

Tasks are recorded using a basic range of symbols:

The beauty of these symbols is that they all start with a dot and can be changed as needed. Once a task has been completed you can put a cross through the dot, when a task is migrated to a new day it can be turned into a greater than symbol and so on. Entries onto these lists are short and to the point (although you can have a longer diary-like section). The idea is that you can glance at the journal and see exactly what you've already done and what you still need to do.

When setting up your bullet journal one of the first things to do is set up an index. This comes at the start of the book and is essentially a content page. Whereas a traditional planner will be divided into sections where calendars sit together, to-do lists in another section and notes in yet another section, a bullet journal lets you start new sections wherever you like. There is no worrying about leaving a certain amount of pages free, you just fill up the notebook as you go along. Therefore having an index helps you to keep track of everything - for example everything referring to January might be on pages 7-11, 25-31 and 45. Although it might seem like a counterintuitive way to work it actually helps to keep things sitting side by side. For example the notes from work meetings can be found near the calendar entry for the meeting which helps to keep things fresh.

There are many different spreads or lists you can choose to put into your journal depending on what you need to plan. You can have calendars to show you the next two, four or six months ahead as well as weekly and daily diary entries. You can include one long to-do list or different lists for every aspect of your life. You can track your fitness levels and plan your meals. Whatever you feel you need.

Putting together the journal takes some time at the beginning but everyone is keen to stress that the system is adaptable. If you try something and it doesn't work then move on. If having a meal planning list becomes more of a chore than a help then ditch it. If you find that having a monthly to-do list is too much then have a weekly one. Bullet journals can be used for both work and home to let you see your life at a glance although you can have separate ones if you feel the need. If you want to be artistic or include extra elements you can but the advice I received was to start simple and work your way up to more complex layouts.

I'm hoping to get started with bullet journaling in the new year but one thing my colleagues pointed out was that there is a community out there around this form of organisation. A quick Google gives lots of interesting ideas for layouts and spreads (I'm getting the lingo!). People are happy to share their designs and you can be inspired, no matter how much you might struggle on your own. I've already been out and bought some coloured pens and washi tape - the only thing left to do now is get started!

Credit for all of these tips goes to Emma Etteridge and Kirsten Lamb at the Engineering Library, Cambridge, Michelle Bond, Coventry University Library and How to bullet plan: a practical guide by Rachel Wilkerson Miller.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Moving into Research Support: What Librarians Really Need to Know

I've been doing a lot of work in the past year or so on educating the library community beyond Cambridge about scholarly communication and research support from blog posts and surveys to speaking at events. In 2018 I'm aiming to formalize this by offering a course on Moving into Research Support in collaboration with CILIP and CILIP East.

It's quite hard work to condense everything a librarian might need to know about research support into one three hour workshop but I'm enjoying the challenge. What I'm really hoping to cover is what library staff really need to know to get started, whether they are new to the world of research support, have had these duties added to their current post or are just interested in exploring the sector and its various roles. Hopefully this will be enough to get people started and help them to grasp the basics of scholarly communication.

In the course I'll be covering: 
  • An introduction to scholarly communication in the 21st century
    • What do we mean by scholarly communication?
    • What does it mean to be a researcher in the 21st century?
    • Where the library fits into the research lifecycle
    • The different roles available for librarians in library and information support
  • Research Data Management
    • What do we mean when we talk about 'data'?
    • Why should researchers learn how to manage their data?
    • How can libraries support researchers across disciplines with their data?
  • Open Access
    • What is Open Access?
    • What are the implications of research funder policies for researchers?
    • How can librarians keep up with the changes? 
  • Disseminating research
    • How can researchers share their research once it's completed?
    • How can they take advantage of new and innovative methods of dissemination?
    • How can librarians support researchers with sharing their work with the wider world?
  • Metrics and measuring impact
    • Why are metrics and why are they important?
    • Why do researchers need to measure impact?
    • How can libraries support researchers with understanding and applying metrics?

I hope this will be a valuable introduction and there will of course be signposting towards further information on different areas so people can explore further if they want to. If this course turns out to be a success who knows what might be next? I'm really enjoying pulling the content together and it's giving me lots of ideas about the skills that librarians really need in this area which is something I hope to do more investigation on in 2018.  

If you are interested in the workshop the course takes place on February 1st and details and booking information can be found via the CILIP website here

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Librarians as Researchers: Methods, Lessons and Trends

Yesterday I travelled down to Canterbury to speak at a CILIP in Kent event Themes and Trends in Library and Information Research. It was a really enjoyable day and I learnt a lot about current research trends from my fellow speakers. For anyone interested I've included my slides and a summary of my talk below.

I started by talking about my various roles, both my job and outside of work. This wasn't done in any way to show off but to demonstrate that all sorts of people can undertake research. In my day job I train Cambridge library staff in scholarly communication and research support which means learning about the research process. I've also dipped my toe into the research pool by working on a few small research projects. Sitting on the editorial board of a journal gives me an insight into the traditional publication process which is useful for my role. I'm not someone who thought they would ever be a researcher, no matter how part time, and hopefully I got this message across to attendees.

Given all the demands on the time of the librarian why should they take on the additional role of researcher? I would argue that it's something they already do in their day jobs. When you want to solve a problem you investigate all of the solutions, choose one to implement, test it and then evaluate it. This is essentially research by another name. Undertaking research can help to give weight to your arguments, especially your managers. You may know that something isn't working or that there is demand for a certain service but taking evidence to the person who holds the purse strings can have a bigger impact. For some it's a required part of their role but even if it isn't then doing some research can make your CV stand out and enhance your skill set. The research process can obviously develop an understanding of research but it also develops project management, communication and critical thinking skills to name a few. Lastly doing research helps to satisfy the natural curiosity of the librarian.

The number of practitioner-researchers has been growing over the last few years but why is this? There has been an increase in the training available on research recently - a quick Google finds a range of training courses, books and presentations on the topic. This comes with a growing realisation that librarians have been undertaking quality research for a long time, for example the work that is produced during postgraduate study for a library degree. Happily there are now ways to showcase this research such as the LISDIS conference. People are also moving beyond the traditional methods of sharing their research like conferences and peer reviewed journals and towards social media which is helping to make it more accessible to a wider audience and getting it out of the academic echo chamber. The increasing number of research support roles available means that more library staff are needing to understand the research process and are trying out small projects. The result of all these developments is that the research process as a whole has been demystified. Whereas it once used to be closed off it is now more open to a wider range of people which can only be a good thing!

So what are the current trends in LIS research?
  • Evidence-based librarianship - this has it's roots in the health and education and sectors and is the theory that decisions should be made based on evidence. This can be a powerful bargaining tool with management who are less likely to argue if you can produce solid evidence to back up your ideas
  • More practitioner-researchers - there has been an increase in the number of active practitioners doing some form of research and sharing the results. This leads to new networks being formed which help people to share best practice and encourage them to develop as researchers
  • Link between theory and practice - research has tended to focus on the this is what we did and how we did it case study approach but there is a growing interest in the theory that underpins the work we do. A good example of this is teaching. Librarians are often required to teach as part of their work but many are now starting to think about the pedagogy which informs that teaching. Why do we teach as we do? Is there a way to improve it? This inevitably leads to questioning things more
  • Trendy trends - every discipline has its trendy topics and librarianship is no different. A few years ago it was ebooks, now UX and scholarly communication are in vogue. Communities build up around these areas and form their own research patterns and trends which then begin to influence the next trend. If you can spot the next trend first then you are ahead of the curve!
  • Failure - this is one trend I'm really pleased to see. Librarians are becoming more open to talking about what doesn't work which can be a really valuable learning experience. This is a general trend in scientific research but it seems to be crossing into other sectors which is great as it has previously been hard to get published in these areas. The tide is now changing and there are publications and even conferences dedicated to sharing failures
  • Trying something new - the final trend is the chance to try something a little bit different. New areas of research are emerging all the time as librarians move to work in ever expanding areas, they're drawing ideas in from other disciplines and trying new research methods. There are also more chances to collaborate with others outside your institution or even outside librarianship. This can lead to lots of exciting new opportunities to pursue research projects and promotes good working relationships with those outside the library
We're working on developing the librarian researcher community at Cambridge through training and encouragement. One thing that has been successful so far is a Community of Practice which meets regularly to discuss a different aspect of the research process. This helps to answer questions and move projects along and has been really useful for me personally as I try my hand at research.

As a final thought I found the following quote from Zora Neale Hurston: 
Research is formalised curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. 
Librarians like to poke away and find the answers - it's what we're trained for. Doing research just gives a formal structure to this curiosity. If we use our knowledge, skills an natural curiosity then we can become the librarian researchers of the future.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Training Nightmares

As it's Halloween I thought I would share some of my training horror stories. I give lots of training  sessions both as part of my role and through my involvement in the library community and inevitably sometimes things go wrong. Over the past couple of years I've learnt a lot of lessons from these sessions so I thought I would share them in this post.

Ultimate disaster

The worst training session I ever gave was a complete disaster from start to finish. I was supposed to give the session with a colleague as part of a training day and we had divided up the content so that we each covered roughly half of the topic. On the day we were due to give the presentation in the afternoon following a keynote speaker. Unfortunately the person organizing the day was coming up from London and missed her train meaning that I had to step in with a different colleague and manage at least the first part of the event. The first speaker arrived but unfortunately her presentation didn't open and then crashed the computer so I was pushed on in her place to give my session: without a co-presenter, having only revised half of the content, with no slides and with someone from the IT department behind me trying to fix the computer. Overall not my finest hour!

Lesson:  if I can get through that disaster then I can get through anything. The important thing is to stay calm and not let the panic show through to the audience. I'm not sure I did that with this particular session but thinking about it helps me to keep composed when things go wrong in other sessions.

Trainers toolkit

Equipment failure is never a good thing, especially if you had something to do with it. I usually present from a laptop connected to a computer which requires a special connector. Usually I keep this with my laptop but I have mislaid it and even had one fail on me which makes it hard to present! I also once had a laptop crash as I was setting it up to deliver a session across the city from my office. Luckily I have colleagues who are very speedy on a bicycle so they were able to rush a new one over to me.

Lesson: buy two of everything you can and always carry one with you. I now have a mini training toolkit for emergencies which contains everything from laptop connections to a doorstop. This helps to avoid most problems if you manage to forget something or something breaks.

Version control

Now that I work in an area which involves advising people how to manage their information I'm more careful about keeping track of different versions of a presentation but this wasn't always the case. I once gave a conference presentation on using Pinterest in the library and was halfway through before I realised that I was sharing an old version of the slides which were missing the vital part which explained what Pinterest was! Luckily I was able to do a live demo but it did stop the flow of the session.

Lesson: always proofread your presentation. And then proofread it once more. By rehearsing the presentation you'll get a feel for it and it others can be your audience they will hopefully spot any errors or missing bits before it gets to the big day.

Backup your backups

Other times something has gone wrong with the slides such as the font randomly changing or even the file being corrupted which has left me scrambling around.

There have been times when something has gone wrong with either the presentation file or the computer just as I'm giving the session. Once the font had randomly changed to a teeny tiny size which was unreadable because I hadn't embedded it before presenting on an new machine and another time the file was completely corrupted and although I had an online backup the internet only just worked enough to allow me to download it.

Lesson: you can never have too many back-ups of your presentation. Save it on the laptop, on a memory stick and in the Cloud - whatever works for you. The important thing is that you can access it. If it's a short presentation then it might even be worth printing out handouts for people to be able to follow along. If all else fails then you might have to talk without slides. Although this is a challenge it does force you to think about the content of your presentation in a different way.

Awkward questions

In every presentation scenario you are bound to get the one person who knows more than you (or at least thinks they do). I train librarians in scholarly communication and research support which is a very fast moving area and I don't claim to know everything. I've done a couple of training sessions where people in the audience have been quick to point out problems or different interpretations (usually in the most obnoxious way possible!)

Lesson: you're never going to please everyone and it's pointless to try. The best you can do is prepare so that you can anticipate the questions you might get and have the answers. If you do get a question you can't answer then be honest and admit you don't know. Offer to find out or throw it open to the audience - it's always good when you can learn something new.

The point of this post isn't to terrify you if you have to give a presentation but to reassure you that these things happen to all of us. It sounds like a cliche but they really do make good learning experiences and in the end they can increase your confidence. Over time you will find that you're better able to cope with disasters and very little will phase you. This was always the source of my anxiety about giving presentations and I suspect the same is true of a lot of other people as well but I promise that it does get easier.

Happy Halloween! 

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Predatory Publishers Revisited

At the time of writing the most popular post on my blog is one that looks at the problem of predatory publishers and how to tell if a publisher is genuine. This was based on some work that I did at Cambridge including a training session for library staff.

Over the past few months we've been experimenting in the OSC with delivering training content electronically via webinars. So far this has been a success so as part of Open Access Week 2017 I delivered a webinar version of my training session. Since there has been so much interest in the original blog post I thought I would share some additional resources. Below you'll find a recording of the webinar, the slide deck, a link to the official OSC guidance and a predatory publisher checklist. Everything is licensed under a Creative Commons CC-BY license and available for reuse (with the caveat that I'm a librarian not a lawyer so none of this should be taken as legal advice!). I hope it's helpful - please let me know if you use any of the material and what people thought!

Webinar recording (23:27)

Slide deck

Predatory publisher checklist

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Internet Librarian International 2017

For the last couple of days I've been in London attending my second Internet Librarian International conference. The event aims to bring together an international audience of librarians to talk tech, tips and new innovations. I was there in a dual capacity - helping to staff the SLA Europe stand and giving a presentation on the work of the Office of Scholarly Communication at Cambridge. This presentation was part of a new strand at the conference on New Scholarly Communications which is an area many academic libraries are becoming increasingly concerned with as they move to develop and enhance the support they offer to their research community. There was a lot of other great information from the conference but in this blog post I'm going to focus on the scholarly communication track.

Several themes emerged which helped to tie the talks together. One such theme was the benefit that can be gained by encouraging researchers to promote their work via social media. Andy Tattersall from The University of Sheffield talked about the work he has done with academics to get them using social media to share their outputs. He recommends treating site recommendations like writing a prescription - instead of just encouraging people to use a tool because it's trendy we need to really think about what the tool is and why it's useful for that particular researcher. He used the example of someone working in linguistics where a YouTube presence might have more impact that a Twitter account. Andy has also adapted Maslow's famous Hierarchy of Needs to show the different tools which could most benefit researchers at different stages of their career (seen in slide number 24 of this presentation) which is a great visual way of getting the information across. This theme was continued by Nick Sheppard from the University of Leeds in his case study on using social media to engage the research community. He pointed out that modern academic libraries are central to the dissemination of the message of the university, most obviously through providing access to its research outputs. One of the aspects Nick has been looking at is the range of places this output is being accessed from (as seen in the tweet below):

#ILI2017 Feeling envious of libraries with research support teams who have time to collate/analyse this type of data
— AlisonMcNab(@AlisonMcNab) October 18, 2017

Showing this kind of evidence to researchers really helps to show them the impact that sharing their research can have and libraries are ideally placed to offer help and advice. We're used to dealing with information, can help with copyright queries and often have a solid working knowledge of different social media platforms. I certainly learnt about a few new ones in the course of ILI!

Unsurprisingly in a track focusing on scholarly communication another theme was openness. The theme of open research is one of the core areas of modern scholarly communication and certainly underpins everything we do in Cambridge but there are of course external pressures to consider. One of these pressures is around the cost of an education. There are of course tuition fees to pay but I was surprised to learn from Bruce Massis from Columbus State College that textbooks can add as much as 31% to the cost of a course. This puts the cost of a college education beyond the reach of many, even if they can afford the initial fees and living costs. Massis suggests that one answer to this is using Open Educational Resources (OER) instead of the original textbook. OERs aim to equip students with what they need to learn on day one of their course but they need to be of good quality. Again this is where the library has a role to work with educators to adapt or create resources that are useful to students. The theme of openness was also present in the talk by William H. Mischo and Mary Schlembach from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who outlined their work opening up library spaces through digital scholarship centres. These centres combine technology with library space to encourage innovation and open up the library to new audiences.

The final theme of the track looked at the different services that libraries are providing in research support. Alison McNab from the University of Huddersfield talked about the new developments in reference management software, something researchers are always asking us about in Cambridge. She pointed out that these now go far beyond just managing references and offer services which integrate into every stage of a researcher's process. She recommends a flipped classroom approach when teaching students to use these tools. There are many instructional videos available from the companies behind the software so have students watch those in advance and then save class time for their questions and comments. Finally Andy Tattersall cautioned us to remember that researchers are busy people. When we're giving them advice on which software to use we need to remember that they have limited time to learn. Make things short and snappy so that it fits into their day (and their attention span!).

As part of the strand I co-presented on the work of the OSC including it's triumphs and challenges and if this is of interest it can be found via the Cambridge repository. Overall ILI provided another great conference experience. I came away with lots of different ideas to put into practice over the next year until ILI 2018. If you want to know more about the rest of the sessions then multiple tweets can be found via #ILI2017.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Pin the Activity on the Research Lifecycle

Over the summer I ran the third iteration of the Research Support Ambassador programme at Cambridge. Every year I try to tweak the programme a little in response to feedback, getting rid of the bits that don't work and improving the bits that do. One piece of feedback I've had from previous runs is that participants would welcome a basic introduction to the scholarly communication landscape and how this relates to libraries. In response I ran the first Ambassador session as an interactive workshop called Scholarly Communication 101

Part of this workshop is an activity designed to get librarians thinking about how their work supports the research community. It's kind of like pin the tail on the donkey but without a prize as there isn't really a correct answer! Participants are shown a basic research lifecycle and given a brief explanation of the different stages. They then have to identify which of the stages they feel their role most closely aligns to and indicate this on the lifecycle (using a small librarian graphic). Next they are shown cards representing various research activities (data management, literature searching, grant proposals etc) and asked to indicate with stickers which activities their library currently undertakes and which activities they feel the library should be working on. These activity cards are then attached to the lifecycle. The end result looks something like this:

The point to this exercise was to illustrate to library staff who may be new to research support just how deeply both they and their library are involved in the research lifecycle. There is involvement at every stage through both new and existing services and the activity often provides a good jumping off point for discussions about the library's role in research support. I've run this exercise a couple of times and the results were quite interesting. Obviously what follows is a very non-scientific analysis of the outcomes from this activity but it does show some interesting patterns.

Which lifecycle stage do librarians identify with?
In fairness to the participants I asked them to only choose one stage to identify with but as expected they overwhelmingly went with the discover stage. There were a couple of librarians in the plan and manage stages but as a rule they tended to favor discovery. Given the established role of librarians this isn't a surprise and sparked useful discussions about the changing nature of library work.

Which services does the library currently provide?
Obviously this depends on the individual library and their audience. I'm also well aware that at Cambridge we have a well supported library system which impacts on the type and range of services we are able to provide. The results show that Cambridge libraries provide a wide range of services although staff had not always thought about them explicitly in terms of the research lifecycle.

By far the most popular current services were Open Access (in this context taken to mean OA advice and training), literature searching, citation advice and copyright. Also popular were reference and data management and advice on social media. Many of these represent 'traditional' library services in an academic context so participants were fairly keen to claim them. Interestingly there were no results for advice on publication agreements or the right format for publication, both of which are key elements of the research lifecycle. In both groups this led on to discussions about whether librarians had the skills needed to provide this type of advice. The conclusion was that they did and in fact often provided adhoc advice even if they didn't focus on it as a dedicated service. When participants placed these activities on the lifecycle they were spread across three of the five areas with only one (literature searching) ending up in the discovery stage they had previously identified with. 

Which services should the library be providing?
This turned out to be an interesting question. Following on from what was in the scope of the academic library there was lots of discussion about the types of service that should be provided. Again Open Access support, reference management, literature searching and citation and copyright advice were the most popular services but there was more of an even spread among the other areas. 

Providing advice on publication format was the only service not to be selected by any participants which needs further investigation on my part. Given that library staff felt that they had the skills and knowledge to provide this why aren't they? One suggestion was that it might be outside the scope of the library's role but it's something I've been working on addressing with training and support. Again these activities were spread out across the lifecycle when added by participants.

These results are in no way scientific and conclusive but they do point towards some interesting trends which will help me inform my future training. The most valuable aspect of this activity was in showing participants that both what they are already doing and what they would wish to do compliment the whole of the research lifecycle rather than being concentrated in one area. Hopefully after this participants would identify with more than just the discovery section of the cycle and place their token accordingly.

If you want to try this activity with your own staff as a way to open up a wider discussion or just as a way to find out how they understand their role in research support the materials can be downloaded here. If anyone does have a go I'd be really interested to learn about the results and whether they are similar across libraries or vastly different. Happy pinning!