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! 

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.